Workspace Design As The Office Makes A Comeback.

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It’s a given. The office will never be the same again. Be it office design or the work culture or the way one does work. Even office wear may perhaps change forever from uptight suits and stiff formals to easy kinds of ‘office wear’. So, can office designs be far behind?

How do you rethink the office to ensure employees, used to working from home for almost a year, return safely and also feel right at home? What trends will rule workspace designs during this comeback-to-work phase?

While most office space designers and interior firms will be building in social distancing and touch-free devices into the core design plan, here’s what else could change.

Open plans may well be history!

At one point in time, an integrated and open floor was all the rage. Perhaps not anymore. As Andy Heath, design director at WeWork tells Raconteur, office design will now be more about “cellularization” – cubicles that can be reconfigured, spaces that can be sectored off, and yet used for varying purposes. This will ensure people get safe havens and privacy. Top these up with a few comfortably designed social spaces for small groups, and you crack the puzzle on social connections too. Eliot Postma, partner at the design firm Heatherwick Studio that has designed Google’s new Mountain View campus in California, tells a business website how he foresees “removal of reception desks and gated barriers, where employees scan their passes, as facial recognition software advances,” but he insists, “People will always want social interaction, so we should prioritize spaces for them to come together.”

Top up the feeling of being in control.

Giving employees a choice of rooms, spaces and temperature could be the basics of making them feel in charge and in control, in the office. It builds in an eagerness to come to office early and take up a prized seat. Having accomplished this gives them a high that keeps their productivity level high all day. Also, office designs with natural light, bright happy colours, and well ventilated will no longer be optional. “The problem we’re solving is such a human problem,” says Room co-founder Morten Meisner-Jensen, to CNBC in an online article, “We need peace and quiet to do focused work. The way companies have migrated from single private offices to open plan layouts has not been done in the right way.” The challenge of redesign will be to boost wellbeing.

Hot Desking will become more popular

Hot Desking, a pre-COVID-19 trend that was just about catching up is back. Now, led more by necessity, it will become a popular feature of many offices. Hot Desking is all about doing away with the traditional ‘personal working space’ format and instead, opening up every seat – giving employees the right to choose where to sit every day on a first-come-first-served basis. It’s a disruption of the old-fashioned office design with nameplate specified seating. But as leading workplace strategy expert and Senior Principal – Director of Workplace at the design firm HOK, Kay Sargent, says in an online interview, “Offices with assigned seats usually have desks proven to be dirtier than many toilets.” That’s because cleaning staff are usually told not to touch personal objects left on assigned desks. Therefore, unassigned seats mean workers won’t feel the ‘ownership’ of a specific chair or desk and won’t try to personalize that space. Goes without saying the managers of hot desk offices will have to convince the occupiers of absolute safety of the workspace.

Do it yourself, community-oriented workspaces

Research shows that people love being given the opportunity to change their environment. It gives them a sense of having won over something. And so, adapting to this, many businesses are now coming up with office spaces that are inviting, comfortable and foster a sense of community, with inputs from the team. In India, where you previously had hospitality or kitchen staff dishing out tea, coffee, snacks etc., the common amenity areas have to be now much better designed for self-service. Spacing out vending machines, rinsing sinks, sit downs sofas, dining tops is now imperative, Designers might also want to make community workspaces cozy and less formal, to mirror the home kitchens, dining and living zones.

Designs that can boost health and well-being

In March, earlier this year, design firm HOK released a statement on their site, which read, “What all companies will be sure to have in common post-COVID-19 is a renewed focus on creating spaces that are safe, healthy, and embrace wellness principles and practices.” This made clear the importance of progressive yet flexible designs that include activity-based blended spaces, which aim at improving employee performance, even as it enhances their well-being and happiness at the workplace. So, human-centric designs that also incorporate greenery and nature, move to wooden flooring and desks more than steel and concrete, will take over. With younger employees, you also have the pressure to keep workspaces trendy and adapt to new technologies as they arrive, and grow.


So, there it is – changes in employee lifestyle and working conditions have made flexible, future-inclusive co-working spaces one of the fastest-growing office space segments in commercial real estate. Though this segment currently accounts for less than 5% of the market, it is expected “to jump up 30% by 2030”, according to a survey by international property consultancy firm JLL. However, trends change with time, and though some of the new fads like ‘privacy booths’ might never take off or fizzle out soon, some design ideas, that are a reflection of the modern-day business culture, have more staying power, and might lead workspace trends of this comeback-to-work phase of our careers for a long time. After all, all offices share one goal: That of enhancing employee productivity and attracting new talent!

Written By : Ashwini Kumar Sharma

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