From on-demand childcare to pets in the office, the workplace is ready for total reinvention
“Nobody ever set the temperature right, but at least they didn’t tell us we were complaining for no reason,” she wrote in a caption to The Washington Post.
Studies have shown that women, whose metabolic rates tend to be lower than men’s, prefer warmer temperatures, but most office temperatures are set to assume men’s metabolic rate. Others have shown that cognitive performance decreases in women at lower temperatures.
The great thermostat debate has been used as a distillation of a simple fact: offices aren’t built for all of us.
The pandemic has thrown these disparities into even starker terms, as millions have left (or been pushed out) of the labor force. More and more people, especially essential workers who never had the luxury of working from home, have reassessed their careers and their relationship to work. Others have abandoned the traditional workplace altogether, opting for the freedom to work from anywhere from permanent remote work. Now the idea of what a workplace looks like needs a complete overhaul.
As more and more offices perform full or partial returns, we wanted to know: Actually make offices more pleasant, especially for women and gender non-conforming people? We’re not talking about lavish starter perks like espresso machines and ping pong tables (which can be problematic in and of themselves), but access to resources like childcare at demand and simple comforts like sunlight and personal space.
Consider this a thought experiment – a group brainstorm that invites us all to imagine a better working world. Here’s what our readers said.
Less noise (and fewer Zoom calls)
I would like more acoustically quiet areas to take Zoom calls without having to hear calls from everyone around you. I always balance the need to be in person in the office if the majority of the day is spent on Zoom calls with others outside of the office/team. We were told that in-person presence is “necessary to build community”. But if commute time plus time spent on Zoom exceeds “community facetime” time, we wonder what’s driving the return to the office.
— Cici Chiang, architect, California
For many, hybrid work is messy and exhausting
I would put skylights. After spending the last year next to a window in my home office, it will be very difficult to return full time to a windowless cubicle. I spent 11 years before the pandemic working without a window. This was the first year in my life that my vitamin D levels weren’t dangerously low. Natural light makes me so happy.
— Katie Faulk, computer scientist, Berryville, Virginia.
— Rachel Orr, Design Editor, The Washington Post
I would have liked to open a window in the office when the weather was nice. Years ago, I worked in an office building that had a balcony. It was a great place to cool off during the working day. It’s a shame that more office buildings don’t have balconies. I hate feeling locked inside. Couldn’t architects be smart enough to design safe access to fresh air?
— Michelle McGinnies, content writer, Fairfax, Virginia.
More plants, windows and fresh air. While I am grateful to have a dedicated space for speech therapy sessions in a school setting (where speech therapists often share or are not given proper offices), I would like a window in a location with no basement – with plants, which I plan to bring anyway.
— Andrea Levy, Speech-Language Pathologist, Brewster, NY
Generally a little less office
Bring the outside, inside. At the very least, add windows that open or, on a larger scale, remove them or let them slide completely to the side. Also: fresh air and lots of plants and trees.
— Michael Schmid, director of higher education, Dallas-Ft. It’s worth it, Tex.
High quality childcare services that are also affordable enough for all staff to use. Covid has rewritten my relationship to work and being in an office. Before the pandemic, I worked full time in DC When the pandemic closed my daughter’s daycare in March 2020, my husband and I struggled to keep her entertained while we both worked full time in our small apartment . I was fired from my job a few months later. At the end of that year, we made the choice to move to be near my husband’s family. They watch our daughter for four hours every weekday.
— Misha Garrison, Grants Writer, Pittsburgh
Animals 👏🏻 in 👏🏻 the 👏🏻 office.
— Aviva Loeb, Subscriber Engagement Editor, The Washington Post
I would like my office to allow well behaved pets on Casual Fridays. It’s been so stressful over the last two years of the pandemic, especially for those of us who can’t do our jobs from home. During this time, I visited another small law firm like mine and was greeted by two adorable little dogs (dressed in matching outfits!). They often come to work with their father, the owner of the law firm. What a happy environment it seemed to be. Animals lower our blood pressure and are very comforting when we are sick or stressed. Those who don’t like animals can ignore the animal and go about their business.
— Gayle Ayala, Receptionist, Las Vegas
I found a new job last year. Although the change has been much better for my mental health, I can no longer bring my dog, Goose, to work with me. I miss him! I also spend a lot of money sending him to daycare a few days a week. If I could change one thing about my current office, it would be the ability to take her occasionally. That said, he would probably miss his daycare buddies – other dogs and people!
— Maddie Hayes, communications, Salt Lake City
I wish there was a dog daycare at my workplace. My pup and I could walk to work, I dropped him off to play with friends, and I could visit him during breaks from my computer. I think it would also help with overall office morale and stress relief efforts. Did you have a difficult meeting? Let’s go play with the office dogs.
— Kaila Messerli, Student Affairs, Chicago
No fragrance (absolutely none!)
I would do it WITHOUT FRAGRANCE. I’m a high school Spanish teacher and have loved being one for 40 years. However, I am very sensitive to scents and today’s world is very mean to people like me. The smells and the chemical cloud from my students and colleagues that are caused by laundry products and personal products are amazing. I suffer from headaches, nausea, brain fog and other allergic reactions. When I retire, I’ll throw away everything that went to school that absorbed that chemical soup.
— Amie Kosberg, 64, teacher, Santa Monica, California.
It taps into the start-up culture a bit too much, but you should never have to pay for snacks and meals, and cold brew should be on point. Also, you know how you got house slippers? This but for the office.
—Anne Branigin, Journalist, The Washington Post
Whenever I do a lot of writing and sit down, like today, I think how great it would be to have a massage therapist on hand! But more generally, I think providing better access to supplies or resources that support physical health in the workplace is crucial! Things like standing desks, screen protectors, ergonomic chairs, etc.
— Janay Kingsberry, Cross-Platform Editor, The Washington Post
Time and space for midday yoga.
— Christine Coleman, Higher Education Administrator, Philadelphia
Have a separate room for this in my house. I am currently working from home at my kitchen counter in my 516 square foot one bedroom condo.
— Sandi Fox, Digital Strategy Consultant, Washington, DC
Natural light for everyone, not just people with offices. And dream bigger: An office with a window and a door for everyone.
— Laurel Hamers, writer, Eugene, Ore.
I would change the dress code to casual! We have Casual Friday where we can wear jeans. For the rest of the week, the dress code is casual, but we have no clients coming into the office. After working from home for over two years, it will be a huge adjustment to get back to that. I hope I never have to and will definitely change jobs if we are called back.
— Michelle Schaker, billing, Atlanta
Location, location, location
I wish it was closer to my house and not in a disconnected commercial area, so everyone can walk to work or walk home for lunch. I would like my office to divide us into small modules instead of having large impersonal spaces.
— Mary Hawkins, graphic designer, Queens, NY
For some, the best desk still isn’t a desk
After hunkering down at home for nearly two years, my office has become many places. Rather than thinking about WeWork, I’m looking for places where I can spend the same amount of money on food and drinks as I would in a group sharing space. There are several Equinox gyms in Manhattan that feature large lounges and cafes. I make a day of it: I’ll show up and answer emails, swim laps, work on a rooftop project where I’ll soak up the sun, and more. Rather than paying for office space, I’m investing in my health, and at the same time, I’m still connected to my work when I need it. More gyms should realize the opportunity they have to keep their customers in their facilities.
— Lavonne Roberts, Freelance Writer, Lenox, Mass., and New York City
Four-day weeks and the freedom to roam anywhere: Companies are (again) rewriting the future of work
… Or just be there less often
You should only have to come into the office for a few hours a day. Hold all the meetings there, then just work from home the rest of the time.
— María Alconada Brooks, Art Director, The Washington Post
Four-day work week. We can accomplish so much in four efficient days, and we would be happier and more rested.
— Kim Anstine, Civil Construction Estimator, Frederick, Md.
What would be your ideal office environment? Keep the conversation going by sharing this story and tagging us on Facebook, Twitter and instagram @thelilynews.