The Great Office Redesign Is Coming
The pandemic brought significant changes to the workplace, including to office design and layout. To accommodate the new hybrid model of work, office designs will likely include more collaborative spaces that also are adaptable and have a homey feel.
Office designs pre-pandemic were often cube farms and had open layouts that shunned privacy to promote collaboration. But now, after almost two years of social distancing and people working from home, office designs are ready for an overhaul, said Stephanie Travis, associate professor of interior architecture and design at George Washington University.
Because the pandemic proved that individual work could be successfully done from home, she thinks organizations will primarily use their office space for collaborative work.
“People are coming back for the collaboration, for meetings,” Travis said. “They’re not going to drive an hour and pay for parking just to sit at a desk and be online the entire time. If that’s all they’re doing, they can just work at home.”
So, how does that translate to office design? First, Travis said organizations should assess their needs and try to get space that is flexible and can accommodate the number of people who will be at the office each day, not necessarily a desk for every employee.
“Real estate is expensive, so there is going to be a lot more flexibility,” Travis said. “The space will be adaptable. No office is going to want half their offices empty for half the week.”
Second, the spaces are going to be more collaborative, where people can meet and brainstorm. Think fewer personal workstations and more hot desking.
“It might be that there is some sort of a sharing system where you use the desk in the morning and are in a conference room later,” Travis said. “You’re not going to want to go back and forth with all your office supplies and stuff, so they’ll need to accommodate that. Maybe there will there be locking storage that can roll and move.”
Sharing space in this way will require a little more logistical planning. “It would take time to figure it out, but it would also save resources,” Travis said. “It’s investing in an app [for scheduling] versus a lot of office space that is empty. If space is empty, it doesn’t feel good. It’s better to have shared spaces so when people are there, it feels dynamic and there’s energy.”
A Sense of Home and Nature
In addition to making the space collaborative and flexible, Travis expects offices to seek a homier vibe so it feels like a place workers want to come.
“We’ve gotten used to going into the kitchen and grabbing a snack,” Travis said. “That’s what people like about working from home. You can take a break and sit on the sofa. I think the workplace should have some of the hospitality elements, so there isn’t that huge shift from home to office, so there are still spaces that are comfortable [and] that you can have breakout sessions in that are more informal.”
To find design inspiration, Travis noted that organizations are looking to hotels and the hospitality industry, which do well at creating inviting atmospheres for people to work. “Those spaces are inspiring and collaborative and have comfortable seating, but it’s also very stylish,” she said.
Travis also said she’s seeing more organizations looking to incorporate nature into their office space, given that many employees added more nature—via midday walks—to their workday during the pandemic.
“Obviously, having more natural daylight or outdoor areas is great,” Travis said. “When that’s not possible, incorporating images of nature—or just the geometry or forms—even warmer materials, maybe less plastic, and more sustainable materials.”
As organizations consider these new layouts and design elements and begin putting them into practice, it’s important to keep in mind that it will take a little bit of trial and error.
“There will be a period of seeing how things are working, a testing period,” she said. “It’s about flexibility. I think they’ll be trying out different techniques and methods and seeing what works best for that company.”
How is your organization adapting its office design to accommodate changes spawned by the pandemic? Share in the comments.
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