The way corporate spaces function and the pace of business have profoundly been reshaped by the pandemic of COVID-19. While teleworking was slowly being mainstreamed, the near-global containment of 2020 has forced companies to make the shift sooner than expected, shaking up well-established codes of office design.
Are personal workstations, as we know them today, called to disappear? No. Evolve, yes
There are two issues to consider when planning corporate office space for the future. The first being that the space must be able to adapt to a fluctuation of personnel and the second is the development and perpetuation of the users’ sense of security and their personal bubble in the office.
A trend is emerging in many organizations towards unassigned desks. In the last few years, the introduction of personal lockers with personal laptops, which employees roll to a vacant workstation, suggests that this approach is feasible.
While some people are eager to return to work, others want to keep working from homepart time, or full time for others. Combining these two realities within the same company will create a hybrid system with rotating employee presence on the premises. This reinforces the idea of creating spaces that are easily adaptable. While some might be assigned a desk to work full-time in the office, others could have smaller sized workstation to accommodate their part-time schedule.
One thing is certain, adaptability will be the keyword in the design of tomorrow’s office spaces This notion will guide the space planning of offices, common areas and meeting rooms.
With teleworking tending to stay in the mainstream, it will be necessary to rethink meeting rooms while taking into consideration the need to connect with employees at home. Maintaining team collaboration will require arranging the space differently: more small conference rooms, fewer large ones. The use of movable wall systems will likely be part of the design provisions to accommodate space redesigns such as a conference room expansion.
Acoustics will also have a crucial role in the success of this solution. As mentioned earlier, the acoustic comfort of spaces will now be the cornerstone of well-functioning work environments. In addition to being able to connect easily and everywhere, it will be necessary to be able to do so without impacting one’s neighbors.
The last issue to consider, but not least, is cleanliness of the workplace, security at work and the feeling of safety. Whether it’s a question of physical, cognitive or emotional well-being, future offices will have to put the well-being of users at the heart of their installations.
From the very beginning of a mandate, it will be essential to approach the reflection on the notions of decongestion, intelligent circulation and hygiene.
The integration of UV lighting to help disinfect surfaces overnight, antimicrobial materials, contactless installations (doors, cabinets, WC, etc.) are all solutions that will become an integral part of the reflection on work and living space design from now on.
So what about the office of tomorrow?
It is difficult to define exactly what it will be. Nevertheless, with the comfort that everyone has enjoyed during the months at home, the spaces will have to be more comfortable, with a cozier atmosphere brought by the use of warm materials. The office of tomorrow will be a living space where the user feels at home, and where his well-being and his needs are at the centre of his environment.
Moreover, managers will have to be prepared to offer their employees more flexible schedules and to be attentive to their family realities, which working from home can greatly facilitate. If the management method remains open to the adaptation to the needs of employees and evolves at the pace of new realities, the revised and improved office 2.0 is just around the corner. A hybrid space, where it is good to work but also good to meet our colleagues; where the notion of community takes on its full meaning and where multiple spaces offer greater benefits for workers than those at home.
In summary, there are still grey areas regarding the future of the post-Covid office and no doubt architects and designers will need to sit down with business managers and end users to understand their needs and realities. While some may welcome the resumption of activities, those who insist on keeping the comfort of their home office are pushing designers to rethink the future of our spaces and revisit the very notions of work and collaboration, to the benefit of everyone.