From on-demand childcare to pets in the office, the workplace is up for a total reimagining
“No one ever fixed the temperature properly, but at least they didn’t tell us we were complaining for no reason,” she wrote in a callout to The Washington Post.
Studies have shown that women, whose metabolic rates tend to be lower than men’s, prefer warmer temperatures, yet most office temperatures are set to assume the metabolic rate of men. Others have shown that cognitive performance decreases for women in lower temperatures.
The great thermostat debate has been used as a distillation of a simple fact: Offices are not built for all of us.
The pandemic threw these disparities into even starker terms, as millions left (or were forced out of) the workforce. More people, especially essential workers who never had the luxury of working from home, reevaluated their careers and relationship with work. Others ditched the traditional workplace altogether, opting for the work-from-anywhere freedom of permanent remote work. Now, the idea of what a workplace looks like is up for a total reimagining.
As more offices make full or partial returns, we wanted to know: What would actually make offices more pleasant, especially for women and gender-nonconforming people? We’re not talking about extravagant start-up perks such as espresso machines and Ping-Pong tables (which can be problematic in their own right), but access to resources such as on-demand child care and plain-old 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’d like more acoustically quiet areas to take Zoom calls without having to hear everyone else’s calls around you. I’m still reconciling the need to be in person in the office if the majority of the day is Zoom calls with others outside of the office/team. We’ve been told in-person attendance is “necessary to build community.” But if the commuting time plus the time spent on Zoom exceeds the one hour of “community facetime,” we wonder what is driving the return to office.
— Cici Chiang, architect, California
Hybrid work for many is messy and exhausting
I would put in skylights. After spending the last year next to a window in my home office, it will be very difficult to go back to a windowless cubicle full-time. I spent 11 years before the pandemic working without a window. This was the first year in forever that my vitamin D levels were not dangerously low. Natural light makes me so happy.
— Katie Faulk, IT worker, Berryville, Va.
— Rachel Orr, senior design editor, The Washington Post
I would have loved 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 refresh oneself during the workday. It’s too bad that more office buildings don’t have balconies. I hate feeling cooped up indoors. Couldn’t architects be clever enough to design access to fresh air that is safe?
— Michelle McGinnies, content editor, Fairfax, Va.
More plants, windows and fresh air. While I am grateful to have a dedicated space for speech therapy treatment sessions in a school setting (where speech therapists often share or are not given proper offices), I’d love a window in a non-basement location — with plants, which I’m planning to bring anyway.
— Andrea Levy, speech therapist, Brewster, N.Y.
Generally just less office-y
Bring the outside, inside. At the very least, add windows that open or, on a bigger scale, remove them or allow them to slide completely aside. Also: fresh air and lots of plants and trees.
— Michael Schmid, higher education director, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Tex.
High-quality child care that’s also affordable enough for all staff to use. Covid rewrote my relationship to work and being in an office. Before the pandemic, I worked full-time in D.C. When the pandemic closed my daughter’s day care in March of 2020, my husband and I struggled to entertain her while we both worked full-time from our small apartment. I was laid off 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, grant writer, Pittsburgh
Pets 👏🏻 in 👏🏻 the 👏🏻 office.
— Aviva Loeb, subscriber engagement editor, The Washington Post
I would want my office to allow well-behaved pets on Casual Friday. Everything has been so stressful during the last two years of the pandemic, especially for those of us who can’t do our jobs from home. During that time, I visited another small law office like mine and was greeted by two small, sweet dogs (dressed in matching outfits!). They often come to work with their dad, 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 unwell or stressed. Those who don’t enjoy animals can ignore the animal and just do their work.
— Gayle Ayala, receptionist, Las Vegas
I got a new job last year. While 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 at my present office space, it would be the option to occasionally bring him along. That said, he would probably miss his day-care buddies — the other dogs and the people!
— Maddie Hayes, communications, Salt Lake City
I wish there was a dog day-care center at my workplace. My pup and I could walk to work, I’d drop him off to play with friends, and I could visit him on breaks from my computer. I think this would help with overall office morale and stress relief efforts too. You had a rough meeting? Let’s go play with the office dogs.
— Kaila Messerli, student affairs, Chicago
No perfume (absolutely none!)
I would make it FRAGRANCE FREE. I am a high school Spanish teacher and have loved being one for 40 years. However, I am very sensitive to fragrances, and the world today is very unkind to people like me. The smells and chemical cloud coming off my students and colleagues that are caused by laundry products and personal products are beyond belief. I suffer from headaches, nausea, brain fog and other allergic reactions. When I retire, I will trash anything that has been to school and soaked up that chemical soup.
— Amie Kosberg, 64, teacher, Santa Monica, Calif.
This taps a bit too much into start-up culture, but you should never have to pay for snacks and meals, and cold brew should be on tap. Plus, you know how you have house slippers? That but for the office.
— Anne Branigin, reporter, The Washington Post
Whenever I’m doing a lot of writing and sitting, like today, I think about how nice it’d be to have an on-site massage therapist! But more generally, I think providing better access to supplies or resources that promote physical health at work is crucial! Things like standing desks, screen protectors, ergonomic chairs, etc.
— Janay Kingsberry, multiplatform editor, The Washington Post
Time and space for midday yoga.
— Christine Coleman, higher education administrator, Philadelphia
Having a separate room for it in my home. I currently work from home at my kitchen counter, in my 516-square-foot, one-bedroom condo.
— Sandi Fox, digital strategy consultant, Washington, D.C.
Natural light for everybody, not just the people with offices. And dreaming 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 when we can wear jeans. For the rest of the week, the dress code is business casual, yet we have no customers that come to the office. After working from home for more than two years, it will be a huge adjustment to go back to that. I’m hoping never to have to and will definitely switch jobs if we are called back.
— Michelle Schaker, billing, Atlanta
Location, location, location
I would want it to be closer to my house and not in a disconnected commercial area, so everyone can walk to work or walk home for lunch. I would have my office split us up into little pods instead of having big impersonal spaces.
— Mary Hawkins, graphic designer, Queens, N.Y.
For some, the best office is still no office
After sheltering at home for almost two years, my office has become many places. Rather than thinking about WeWork, I look for places where I can spend the same amount of money on food and beverages that I would in a group-sharing space. There are several Equinox gyms in Manhattan that have large lounge and cafe areas. I make a day of it: I’ll show up and answer emails, swim laps, work on a project up on the roof where I’ll take in some sun, and more. Rather than pay for an office space, I’m investing in my health, and at the same time, I’m always connected to my work when I need to be. More gyms should realize the opportunity they have to keep their clients in their facilities.
— Lavonne Roberts, freelance writer, Lenox, Mass., and New York City
Four-day weeks and the freedom to move anywhere: Companies are rewriting the future of work (again)
… Or just being there less often
You should only have to come to the office a few hours a day. Conduct all meetings there and then just work from your house the rest of the time.
— María Alconada Brooks, art director, The Washington Post
Four-day workweek. We can accomplish just as much in four efficient days, and we’d be happier and more refreshed.
— Kim Anstine, estimator in civil construction, Frederick, Md.