It’s undeniable that Covid is forcing the contract workplace to be reimagined. For months, architects and designers have been considering what employers and workers will want and need when it’s fully safe to return to the office. They are considering four major factors:
1. Growth of Work From Home
The shift to WFH has been dramatic. And while it’s still not universally easy or fully embraced for every worker or employer, it’s clear that WFM is not going away. Music and podcast giant Spotify recently announced that it would be adopting a “Work from Anywhere” model. Employees can choose whether they want to be in the office full-time, at home full-time or a combination of the two. This unique approach is gaining traction, and not just with tech companies.
2. Smaller Office Footprints
With WFM, fewer employees will be in a physical workplace. A recent Pew Center Research study says more than half of employees want to continue working remotely, even after the pandemic has passed. This means employers are looking at reducing their overall office footprint, which can translate to financial savings. Companies that have been hard hit by the pandemic are looking to save even money on their furniture and fixture investments, but they do not want to sacrifice quality.
3. Safety, Wellness and Inclusion
The coronavirus has put an even brighter spotlight on the importance of workplaces that offer safety and wellness. No employee wants to work in an environment where they don’t feel safe or their health could be compromised. At the same time, we recognize more can be done to foster greater employee inclusion. When workplaces bring people to together in a safe and inclusive way, that can lead to greater worker satisfaction, happiness and productivity.
4. The Role of the Workplace
Architects and designers are thoughtfully reconsidering the role and purpose of the “new” workplace. Is it a place to foster company culture? Spark innovation? To be sure, the pandemic has given the A&D community a chance to “pause” and rethink what a workplace is and should be for employers and employees. This could be the most important question that needs to be addressed moving forward.
Design Considerations for the Workplace
Each of these factors creates major design challenges. Fortunately, the A&D industry is not one to stand still. There are multiple resources available that can help address and solve these issues.
For example, when it comes to addressing the needs of a smaller office footprint, HOK’s “10 Principles of Space Management” can be an excellent resource. HOK offers an even more robust solution with its Space Management in Corporate Real Estate article.
Integrating wellness into your design can be made easier through the International WELL Building Institute. The organization offers a slew of tools and resources. One to check out includes its course called Covid-19 Training for Professionals. This course provides evidence-based design strategies for promoting new health and safety best practices.
Products That Support the “New” Office
Selecting products for the “new” office will be essential. Manufacturers have been stepping up with multiple solutions. Some of these include:
Mobile and adaptable workstations are emerging as a way to meet multiple needs. These solutions, like this M Nesting table from HAT Collective, allow for group collaboration at a safe distance. Or, this product can be used for independent and highly focused work, when needed.
Steel & Component Based Furniture
Employers realize the importance of cleaning and sanitizing spaces and products. Many manufacturers, like Integra Seating, now have chairs with steel arms and legs. Products made with steel can be cleaned easier than those with wood or other porous surfaces. Additionally, modular products, where seating arms or legs can be easily replaced, eliminates the need to – and expense of – replacing the entire chair.
Carpet is poised to play a significant role in the “new” office. It checks many of the boxes related to heath, design and functionality. As a soft surface product, it naturally absorbs noise, which helps with acoustics. Fibers from the carpet trap allergens and dust particles, which improves indoor air quality.
And, when made with a premium solution-dyed nylon, like Zeftron nylon, it offers numerous design advantages. Custom carpet products can create wayfinding schemes to help with social distancing. Or, custom colors and patterns can be used to create calm and wellness-themed spaces. An organization can also use custom colors to support their culture; a company’s logo and their colors can be easily and cleverly integrated into a carpet design.
It’s clear that some trends for the post-pandemic workplace have emerged. But it’s unclear which ones will prevail. Or what new ones will appear.
But one thing is undeniable: Everyone – designers, architects, employers, workers, product manufacturers – must continue to be adaptable and flexible to meet the ever-evolving workplace needs. The architect and design industry has responded with vigor and innovation since the pandemic began. These same characteristics will be needed as we enter the “new” office workplace.
What are your thoughts? What are the workplace trends you’re seeing? What are some of the innovative and adaptable products commercial products you’d like to see in your office?