June 30, 2022

What kind of workspaces will bring employees back to the office?

The office isn’t obsolete — but the traditional approach to them is


5 min read

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A coffee machine just doesn’t cut it anymore — traditional ways of working are in the past and employers now need to do more to attract top talent back to the physical workspace.

Employees resisting returning to the workplace often cite work-life balance as a key reason why. And while Zoom and Slack have become commonplace team tools it’s hard to replace in-person interaction, especially for a business is in its formative years. 

“Creativity thrives when people are working together in the same space,” says Amy French, director at Level39, a community of 180 tech startups and scaleups based in Canary Wharf, London. “The same goes for sharing knowledge and experience with colleagues — what they don’t know, they won’t ask. So, when surrounded by conversation and new information, it sparks learning and new ideas. It also helps colleague relationships develop and grow.”


French believes the relationships built in-person through connections, referrals and chance interactions at events are a key driver for business development. “There is no replacement for in-person collaboration and connections,” adds French.

So how are employers jazzing up the office to bring teams back together?

Ask your employees what they want

Companies looking for new office space in 2022 should have a different list of must-haves compared to pre-pandemic times. Employee demands have changed and the way in which they use a communal office space has, too.

Dutch ebike brand VanMoof quickly outgrew its office in Amsterdam East during the pandemic. Before starting the search for their new office, they did a survey to get a better understanding of what its employees' needs were. 

There are open plan desks, little quiet nooks, decked out meeting rooms and all the snacks and good coffee you can wish for

“We were curious to understand where our employees like to spend most of their time at the office, if they prefer dedicated desks or flex desks, if they are happiest in a quiet or buzzing environment,” Lenny Heeren, culture and workplace lead at VanMoof, tells Sifted. “We also asked them to sum up their ideal office in a few words. We received a lot of valuable feedback and ideas and with the outcome, we managed to open the doors to our second office in Amsterdam in September, 2021.”

Employee input is invaluable to a business leader looking to invest in a workspace that will keep staff happy — and it’s key to ensuring money isn’t wasted on the wrong things. What you think may be important to your staff may actually be lower down on their priority list.

“We spend so much of our days at work that it’s key that an office is as comfortable as possible,” says Maaikedirkje Cornelissen, office manager at VanMoof. “Our offices are designed in a way that they cater to as many needs as there are colleagues. That means there are open-plan desks, little quiet nooks, decked-out meeting rooms and all the snacks and good coffee you can wish for.” 

A greener space

Employees are increasingly aware of sustainable practices, and, according to Level39, are demanding the same from their employers and office spaces. 

The Level39 workspace, which is owned by property developer Canary Wharf Group, is situated in a sustainable-certified building. It’s committed to achieving Net Zero Carbon by 2030, and has sent zero waste to a landfill since 2009. 

More and more people are seeking to commute on two-wheels instead of four

Canary Wharf Group is committed to bringing people and nature closer together through its Biodiversity Action Plan and Eden Project Partnership, which supports its quest to have a thriving ecosystem across its estate.

“Collaboration with 'green' industry partners is also a great avenue,” says French. “Last year, we joined Tech Nation's ‘Tech Zero’, an industry initiative to encourage tech companies of all sizes to consider their carbon emissions and commit to achieve net zero. It offers resources and a toolkit to support those companies to deliver their net zero goals.”


Offices play a key role in encouraging more sustainable employee behaviour. At VanMoof’s headquarters in Amsterdam, for example, they recycle, have drinking water taps, handle most documentation digitally and have catered vegetarian lunches as the default option. But as an ebike company, its most unique sustainable achievement ​sees almost all the employees riding an electric bike for their commute to work. 

“More and more people are seeking to commute on two wheels instead of four,” Cornelissen tells Sifted. “We offer company plans to make it easier for companies and organisations to get their teams riding. By setting the right example, it makes it easy for employees to contribute to sustainability goals.”

Physical events are key

In 2022, it’s not enough for staff to go into an office "just because". The office should provide value to a person’s role, professional development and their employer overall. The opportunity to collaborate, network and build is invaluable.

“Collaborative, flexible and creative workspaces will bring employees back to the office,” says French. “As well as coworking space and offices, we offer a vast range of ecosystem activities and events including access to mentors, investors and partners, as well as amplification and profiling. Our priority as a community is to support our members on their growth journeys, helping them scale in Canary Wharf and beyond.”

In addition to break-out spaces and games rooms, Level39 offers an array of industry activities and events that encourage networking and collaboration. It also curates one-on-one and group sessions with like-minded peers, mentors and investors through a programme of workshops.

People will be drawn to workspaces that enable collaboration, ignite relationship building and help initiate those 'water cooler' conversations

Level39 has a curated pool of mentors, investors and partners that have experience ranging across the industry, offering challenge, advice and guidance to its 180 member companies.

“​​For example, we work closely with Innovate Finance on events and opportunities for our two communities, with London & Partners on supporting entrepreneurs expanding to London from overseas, and with Tech Nation on the Tech Zero initiative,” adds French. “People will be drawn to workspaces that enable collaboration, ignite relationship building and help initiate those 'water cooler' conversations.”

Take a virtual Tour of Level39 or come visit us in Canary Wharf and see what it’s all about. Visit