More than half of people who can work remotely expect or prefer to do so at least part of the time. Organizations of all types must therefore make hybrid work more viable and sustainable. The design and construction of LinkedIn’s new headquarters offers three important lessons. First, the office has to be optimized for all use cases, from heads-down work to social gatherings. It also has to accommodate a more diverse workforce, accepting a more relaxed professionalism. Finally, those designing workspaces must constantly test, retest, and adapt them to suit changing needs.
We’re now in the next chapter of the great pandemic-instigated work experiment. According to Gallup, more than half of people who can work remotely expect or prefer to do so at least part of the time from now on. For their organizations the goal is clear: Make hybrid work more viable and sustainable.
As an employee of LinkedIn and consultant at NBBJ, respectively, we’re always trying to better understand workplace trends and support both our employees and our user base in navigating them. Most recently, we’ve put new thinking on hybrid work to the test in designing LinkedIn’s 250,000 square foot global headquarters, called B1, on the existing 29-acre campus in Silicon Valley.
Although this effort started before the pandemic, we’ve worked together to adapt our plans for this moment in work history. Through research, design, and now the adoption of the new space, including norms around its use, the process has been one of testing and refinement — balancing in-person, hybrid, and remote work in a way that supports employee well-being while continuing to move the company forward.
Here are three of the central lessons we’ve learned so far.
Optimize the office for all use cases.
The office should accommodate diverse roles and preferences. For working parents, that might be a station where they can do heads-down work away from the distractions and responsibilities of home. For many Gen Z employees, the return to the office is a welcome opportunity to find what they’ve been largely missing during the pandemic — space for in-person mentoring, learning opportunities, and growth. Most employees are looking for places to build (or rebuild) the social capital — which McKinsey defines as “the presence of networks, relationships, shared norms, and trust” — that has eroded over the last two years.
That’s why LinkedIn’s new HQ incorporates spaces that accommodate all of these use cases: focus, collaboration, learning, and socialization, as well as rest. We offer everything from a quiet library to a bustling café, and employees can choose to work wherever they want whenever they want. We learned during lockdown that productivity goes up when workers have more personal agency. Workplace design has to allow people to find individualized routines and rhythms that feel good for them. This includes working from home when that feels right.
As a member of LinkedIn’s sales team noted, “It doesn’t make sense to come into the office on days where I will be in a meeting room for most of the day. So, I plan my visits when I can spend time meeting the team informally.”
One of the biggest changes we made to the original pre-pandemic headquarters design was cutting the number of traditional workstations by about 40% and replacing them with several dozen seating areas — distinct “neighborhoods” for each team laid out to suit their typical activities. Some look like living rooms and serve as an area for socializing or group discussions; others have perch points for individual work or pair meetups. The entire building is also vertically organized to map to a gradient of work styles, from the most social on the ground floor (with co-working spaces, a market-style cafeteria and coffee shop) to the most heads-down at the top.
Accommodate a more diverse workforce.
Some of the backlash around a return to the office in corporate America comes down to a rejection of old models of professionalism. Work culture in general and office design in particular need to reflect a more complex and varied workforce, including and those with physical and cognitive disabilities. Thus, inclusive design principles informed all the choices we made for the new LinkedIn headquarters. Taking into account conditions such as paralysis, visual or auditory impairment, neurodivergence, anxiety, and more, we considered everything from ramps to light and glare, stimulation level to acoustics, degree of privacy to furniture that would accommodate 60 different postures.
We also made clear that our norms about attire and other aspects of showing up to work are more flexible than ever before. We refer to this as “the new professionalism,” where people can bring more of their unedited selves to work, reducing formality in favor of authenticity and personal comfort.
This was an important way to ensure that many of the employees from underrepresented groups, who prefer to work from home because it involves less code-switching, also feel comfortable returning to the office.
Test, re-test and adjust accordingly.
People will use the office if it’s a space they want to be in. That’s why we’ve adopted a mindset of testing and experimentation and adjustment throughout this process. We’re constantly soliciting feedback from employees to learn what’s working and what should change. This includes easels throughout the building where people can leave handwritten comments, frequent surveys, feedback forms, focus groups, interviews, and quantitative data like attendance and sensor mapping
One area of investigation is the best types of conference and meeting rooms: outdoor or indoor? Long table and chairs, or sofas, lounge chairs, and stadium-style risers? Or all of the above?
Based on feedback from team so far, we’re making changes to the technology and AV systems to create an even better experience for our hybrid colleagues. We are also switching to lighter-weight chairs in our conference rooms to better support teams that need to adapt the space to fit a range of different meeting types.
Another persistent challenge is how to help people navigate moving back and forth between in-office and remote work — particularly engineers and other employees with specific and cumbersome hardware needs. We now know from constant testing and iteration that the most utilized workspaces are actually the standard desks and phone rooms, but they must be equipped with all the technology needed for hybrid work, including all-in-one video conferencing and digital whiteboarding solutions (that combine touch, writing, and video-conferencing capabilities for example) and dual and adjustable monitor setups that support paired coding and team working. But we’re still asking: Do we need more social space? What’s the best configuration for large teams vs small teams? Do we need more desks? What will employees need next quarter or next year? Does the technology in the space enable connectivity and productivity?
In fact, since we opened our new HQ, we’ve found that, even though employees are free to work from home or on campus, 63% of people technically assigned to other buildings now make their way to B1 since opening in January, taking advantage of the variety of work zones, amenities and configurations the space provides. We’ll keep listening to their suggestions to see what else might draw them in and how we might experiment as a result in order to help them feel more effective and their work more enjoyable.
We know we haven’t gotten everything right and we don’t expect everything to work as planned — the key is to ask why, tweak the design, and then test again. Either way, this next step is less about figuring out the end game and more about creating an office space dynamic enough to adapt to our evolving world of work.