As interior designers, we are constantly exploring possible futures with our clients, modeling scenarios that envision what the ever-evolving future of the workplace might be. This recent working from home experience has shown businesses that many people can better manage their 'focus work' at home. At the same time, virtual collaboration tools have allowed richer connections and team building among remote team members. The focus work which is typically around 50% of most peoples time, can be performed more effectively at home for many employees, away from the office environment.
At our offices at Pick Everard, our discussions with clients and suppliers tell us that human need to be together is as essential as ever for fortifying workplace community, social relationships, and enhancing a company's mission and culture. This raises questions about what the workplace could and should look like in 2021, 2022 and beyond. In a future de-densified, post-COVID-19 world, does the traditional one workstation per person ratio still make sense? Shouldn't we instead design physical places for meeting, collaborating and socialising?
To best reinforce a company's mission, how can businesses give employees the tools and environments they need to be effective at home or in the office?
Will the fluid work environment become the new normal?
We may see a new hybrid model emerge that encourages a fluid work environment, supporting individual workstyles with choice and autonomy, and allowing employees to decide whether they want to work from home, off-site, or connect with coworkers in a meeting space. The work experience physically and virtually co-exist, so teams could continue to innovate on both platforms.
Meeting Spaces: When the office becomes a destination
This model asks the traditional office to relinquish its function as a provider of private workstations and instead lean into it's new role of a 'meeting space'. This would achieve true mobility by creating a highly flexible and fluid environment. Perhaps this space could accommodate a demountable wall system combined with furniture on wheels, mobile writeable surfaces and endless seamless hands free technology. This would create the infrastructure that allows employees to make a variety of temporary spaces, from several relatively intimate (at least as intimate as COVID-19 allows!) four person small team collaboration spaces to meeting spaces that can hold a large number of socially distanced spaced people. Perhaps the use of the space could be handled and scheduled through an app and the 'rooms' or zones would be equipped with a mobile hospitality cart stocked with individually wrapped snacks and drinks.
Host Stands: Emulating a company's culture
A fixed stand at the entry of an office space could further preserve the welcoming company culture, featuring a digital screen displaying ongoing work, upcoming events, marketing collateral, and company data - all branded and reflective of the company's vision and values. A host stand could also include touch free drinks and water dispensers, a sink to promote handwashing and a large counter around which comfortably distanced co-workers and visitors could gather.
Our collective work from home experience has been a forced experiment for all of us, giving us an insight into what we need to work most effectively. And we've learned that despite new protocols for hygiene and physical distancing, and the availability of ever improving technology to connect us, one thing has not changed: the need for places where people can engage with each other, places that provide meaning to the workplace and the energy needed to create collaborative working. Emphasising the workplace's importance allows people to build the social relationships and interactions needed to support that work.
Designing a workplace that balances the physical with the virtual allows team members - no matter where they are - to continue to collaborate and innovate.
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