How do you design spaces that make people want to stay?

Audience members are engaged by a guest speaker event hosted by porter.

We’ve all seen articles like this one from the Wall Street Journal that break down why folks don’t want to return to the office. And at face value, it makes sense. Historically, corporate culture hasn’t been able to offer the same kinds of freedom that employees find at home. The office was where we worked. And at home was where we felt like we belonged.

While this new shift towards remote work has empowered employees to embrace their needs, it’s also created a culture of isolation that lacks inspiration and creativity.  The role of community spaces has never been more important. People need safe, positive gathering areas where they can connect, ideate, play, and learn. They need experiences that surprise and delight. They need a place where the magic happens! The key is to create an environment where people feel welcomed and invited in—not coerced or pressured.

This is what we specialize in at Porter—creating spaces and experiences that meet the emotional and physical needs of visitors and inspire them to gather on their own terms again and again—and good news, we’re not into gatekeeping.

Here’s our time-tested formula for designing and building spaces that catch people’s eyes and keep them coming back for more.

Plan for every purpose

Our Porter community has deeply informed our philosophy about what a space can be—for starters, we know that workplace experience managers do so much more than order supplies. We don’t require our folks to be in the office every day. We’re thoughtful about the specific work they do, how their team collaborates, and the broader needs of our organization. We’re unafraid to run multiple programs in our spaces. We plan for boldness, and our plans honor our commitment to radical hospitality.

So, where should you begin? Envision your own space not just as a single physical room but as a flexible resource with the ability to foster many different experiences. You don’t need to limit your scope. A space must satisfy many needs—and you need to plan properly to accomplish that.

Use these questions as a guide for planning a solution that’s as unique as your community:

How many people will use the space?
Keep in mind that they may not all use it at the same time.

Why are they coming to the space, and what will they do there?
Make their commute worth their while (hint: no one wants to hustle to their workspace only to sit on video calls all day!) Choreograph the dance so people can improve. Schedule teams on the same days. Initiate networking opportunities by pairing up first-year employees and legacy employees. When you plan for people to come in and be together, it changes how the office is designed.

How long will they stay?
The last few years have shown us the benefits of a healthy work/life balance. Create a space that empowers visitors to embrace flexibility and use their time in a way that enables them to be productive. A more balanced schedule is not just better for employees, but for the employer too.

What do they need within that space in terms of physical amenities? Which of these are table stakes, and what can you provide that would surprise and delight the visitor?
Pro-tip, it’s not a ping-pong table. Find solutions that marry productivity and innovation—and inspire connection.

The reality is that fitness centers, meeting rooms, and lounge areas are standard features of best-in-class buildings. However, the magic only happens when these spaces are activated through the lens of radical hospitality.

Everything from concierge services to destination spaces that deliver an unconventional meeting and co-working experience help to elevate the status quo “nice-to-have” building amenities to delightful “how did I live without this?” luxuries.

Where do you start? Bring a curated touch into your space with special on-site suites that make for a better experience when folks come together. Another opportunity is to offer programming that showcases themes people care about like health & wellness, lifestyle, entertaining, and learning & innovation.

Get into the headspace of your visitors

In order to create an experience that people want to visit again and again, you need to factor in their emotions. How do they feel when they spend time in your space–clock the good, bad, and even the indifferent feelings. Keep in mind that different generations are likely to feel differently about their experience and will have different needs and desires.

We recommend starting with some simple questions that can help paint a bigger picture of what your community’s needs are, as well as reveal areas to troubleshoot along the way:

Are they here by choice?

Are they comfortable or nervous?

Are they fueled by the shared energy of others or reluctant to gather?

Do they know why it’s important for them to be there? Do the leadership and mid-level management teams know why, and do they believe in the reason?

Is there a mission or vision that people care about?

Armed with this information, you can now identify points of friction and actively resolve them. Here are some common points of friction you may run into—and how to navigate them.

Commute times and childcare
Support your community’s right to a healthy work/life balance. Folks need flexible timing to accommodate everything from their commute to their childcare schedule. Plan mindfully when they need to come into the workspace.

Flexible workspaces
The traditional workspace didn’t support a variety of work styles. In order to create an experience that folks want to be a part of, you need to make it accessible to everyone. Spaces need to support the transition from solo to group work, and technology needs to be equitable for virtual employees.

Microsoft entrusted our team with the task of introducing new hybrid solutions into their space that reflected our Porter philosophy of radical hospitality. In collaboration with Microsoft and Steelcase, we designed the Steelcase Ocular Hybrid Collaboration Table to help make a more equitable experience for employees working in-person or remotely.

While the table was created for the Microsoft Teams Room Front Row experience, it can benefit other hybrid collaboration spaces as well. The orientation of the room around the wall display and the curvature of the table create more eye-to-eye contact for those in the room and joining remotely. The front-angled leg and modesty panel means everyone can sit comfortably side-by-side for extended meetings. ​Learn more about our unique solution here.

Lack of social experience facilitators
Who is responsible for making a space desirable for gathering? Middle managers are often required to act like social architects but are ill-equipped to do so. Make sure you have the right people in the position and that they have the resources they need to bring their plans to life.

Empty spaces
When folks enter an empty space, they wonder where the other people are. Where should they go? Ensure that your space has a guide (or dare we say, a porter) to shepherd them through the experience.

Awaken a sense of awe

Our goal in every project is to spark feelings of joy, wonder, playfulness, and awe. Because those are feelings that people will want to experience over and over again. It feels revolutionary when organizations focus on making sure their folks leave the space feeling grateful that they came in. It’s not about the free coffee—it’s about having the best coffee. It’s not a boxed lunch—it’s a delicious dining experience. How do you capture those elusive moments of awe?

Let’s turn to psychologist Dacher Keltner. This Harvard Business Review piece perfectly sums his philosophy up: “To find awe, Keltner says, we must look for ‘eight wonders of life.’ The most common are nature, music, visual design, and moral beauty (when we witness people helping other people.) Less common but often more profound are “collective effervescence” (what fans madly cheering together in a soccer stadium feel), spiritual experiences, epiphanies (when we learn something unexpected that changes our worldview), and, of course, births and deaths, life’s beginnings, and endings.”

How can you introduce these themes into your own space? Start by thinking about the types of events or locations that your community would visit on the weekend for free:

Book inspiring guest speakers
Guest speakers don’t just help workers develop technical skills—they can also help them evolve as people. Find out what your team’s personal goals are and honor them—for example, invite a monthly financial planner to your space for a Q&A.

Bring people together
Look at popular fitness hubs like CrossFit or SoulCycle—they have an almost cult-like following. Think about that mentality when you organize clubs. What are people really excited about? It could be happy hour running groups, true crime podcasts, supper clubs, and more. It’s also important to have employee resource groups that foster intimacy and where individuals feel supported.

Celebrate your employees
No one has a team like yours—so celebrate them! Your employees have great ideas, and they will thrive if you give them the autonomy to create their own programs.

Build community through service
Show folks that you stand for something and will take action. Commit to service-oriented programs that go beyond a one-and-done volunteer experience during the holidays. Consistent volunteer opportunities will foster a collective sense of belonging.

Set the vibe
Think beyond the sea of white laminated high-top tables. Stop people in their tracks with little moments that make your environment feel special. Décor, styling, plants, and other mindful design-oriented details can take a space from “whatever” to “WOW.”

Make space for the individual. Bring people together.

The key to creating spaces that build community is people-first design that meets emotional and physical needs. Plan for an environment that inspires wonder, makes people feel comfortable, and fosters a sense of belonging. Your visitor gets to preserve their sense of freedom and enjoy a space on their terms while connecting with other people, investing in their community, and satisfying their need for togetherness.

Interested in learning more about how we create spaces and experiences? Reach out to our team at [email protected].