Since 2020, the landscape of work has changed, with Covid-19 accelerating significant shifts in working practices, attitudes and behaviours. Today, employers and employees are adjusting to the new demands of work and the role of the physical workplace. There is more room for debate about how and where we work which has major implications for the future of workplace design.
According to research by tech consulting firm Gartner, 65% of employees say the pandemic has made them rethink the place work should occupy in their lives, while 52% say it has made them question the purpose of their day-to-day jobs. And Accenture has revealed that 83% of the global workforce has identified the hybrid model as the ideal workplace scenario.
As employees reassess their relationship with work, new demands and trends are reshaping perceptions about the office and our ways of working. The expectation is that the office will remain a key feature of working life – in fact, appetite for office space remains strong, with real estate company Savills identifying “high levels of underlying demand” in London in early 2023. But the ongoing evolution of the office raises many questions about its future structure, shape and function. Businesses continue to adapt their offices in response to the shift in working patterns and preferences. Here are eight key trends shaping current workplace design.
With remote and hybrid working now firmly established, the notion of fixity in the modern office is beginning to fade. As it is more common for employees to only work in the office two or three days a week, businesses are moving away from permanently allocated workstations and personally owned space. Fluidity and flexibility are the order of the day.
This shift in approach provides increased potential for productive and collaborative interaction between employees, with different conversations arising from different seating and working arrangements. It also means that, by carefully managing on-site schedules, businesses can reduce shared working areas and desk space. And it’s a move many companies are beginning to embrace.
According to research conducted by real estate agents Knight Frank, over half of business leaders surveyed said they anticipate extending their hot-desking and desk-sharing regimes going forward.
Offices are getting smarter. As businesses look to increase efficiencies, boost performance and support hybrid working, investment in workplace technology continues apace. Audio Visual (AV) tech, for example, expanded massively during the pandemic as businesses turned to Microsoft Teams, Zoom and other platforms following the work-from-home mandate. And with remote and devolved working here to stay, enhanced AV looks set to be a permanent feature of the modern office.
Contactless tech is on the rise, too, with enduring concerns about viral transmission in crowded places. Enabling employees to activate lifts, turn on lights, exit lobbies and operate appliances without touching a single button or surface, contactless tech is designed to reduce shared touchpoints and restrict infection potential. It is therefore key for businesses looking to promote safe working environments and encourage employees back into the office.
Automation and artificial intelligence are also enhancing office experiences and output, while the 5G rollout is beginning to accelerate workplace connectivity. And for those businesses pivoting to flexible work, capacity control systems such as Condeco are proving essential for workspace scheduling, remote booking and resource management.
Up to 20% of the population is considered ‘neurodivergent’, which refers to differences in neurological function that affect how the brain works. As an umbrella term, it encompasses medical disorders, learning disabilities and other conditions.
Neurodivergent employees have different workplace needs from their ‘neurotypical’ colleagues. ‘Designing for neurodiversity’ is therefore a key component of workplace inclusion programmes. To cater for neurodivergent staff, progressive businesses are incorporating a broad spectrum of requirements into their workspace designs.
Patterns are forming around client demand for quiet rooms and dedicated concentration rooms to assist with focus and reflection. These spaces are typically low-tech and minimise distraction, so they’re away from main circulation areas. These types of spaces are becoming more of a requirement as employers recognised the need for supporting different personalities and neurodivergent needs in the office.
ONS figures show that 84% of employees who worked from home as a result of Covid-19 intend to continue hybrid working in the future, with 42% planning to be based mainly from home. Many people, it seems, have been swayed by the increased efficiencies and improved work-life balance that remote working brings.
But whether this model will continue to dominate the future of work remains uncertain. Humans are social creatures, and the social isolation that accompanies remote working can take its toll. A 2021 survey conducted by Indeed found that 73% of remote workers missed socialising in person and 46% missed work-related conversations. Numerous other reports have testified to the negative social aspects of homeworking and associated mental health impacts.
What’s more, lack of visibility and human contact can affect career development. In-person relationships are key to progression, enabling employees to build understanding, dialogue and trust with their colleagues and bosses. And while companies will not consciously penalise employees who work from home, they are more likely to recognise and reward those they can see, up close and personal, in the physical work environment.
In this way, the office still has a vital role to play, facilitating the human interactions that sustain corporate culture. Indeed, communication and collaboration are essential to the success of any business; and the physical office is key to promoting these components of corporate life. Reassuringly, demand for office space remains strong, with analysis from Savills showing that in 2023 square footage requirements in Central London are already “10% ahead of the 10-year long-term average”.
Employee wellbeing will be one of the major drivers of workplace design in the years ahead. With the pandemic sharpening the focus on human health, businesses will increasingly design their office space around their employees’ mental, emotional and physical needs.
In addition to the contactless tech innovations mentioned earlier, office designs will increasingly focus on minimising density and overcrowding. Rethinking shared and personal space will be critical, with businesses looking to create intuitive spaces that promote both safety and productivity.
Expect to see an increase in biophilic design and natural lighting, both of which are proven to alleviate stress and promote a sense of calm. Moss walls, trees and plants will proliferate, while access to roof gardens or landscaped areas will become imperative. Similarly, social areas, sanctuary spaces and chillout zones will become staple features of the office, while employers looking to go the extra mile will lay on wellness classes, meditation, yoga and a range of healthy dining options.
Increasingly, businesses will need to create ‘commute-worthy’ offices. Oktra’s Creative Director, Dominic Dugan, explains that “elevating the user experience plays an important role in allowing people to decide to spend more time in the office. We’re not going to try and recreate the home in the office but if we can draw influence from the way we interact with our homes, it can help inform us of how to create working environments people can see the value in.”
An increase in iconic ‘destination offices’ is expected in the coming years, as more companies realise the importance of place in retaining an engaged on-site workforce. Dynamic brand-led placemaking and design can create compelling workplace environments (see, for example, Google’s ‘landscaper’ in Kings Cross and Apple’s campus at Battersea Power Station). And for younger employees in particular, workplace design will need to reaffirm and reflect core values to ensure they feel connected and inspired.
While specific desk-based tasks will be conducted at home, employees will likely use the office for more collaborative activities. In fact, according to research conducted by Knight Frank, 55% of business leaders expect to see an increase in the proportion of collaborative space in their portfolios in the next three years.
As part of this shift, companies will need to provide informal breakout spaces, overflow spaces and lounge areas to accommodate brainstorming sessions, seminars and social events. Courtyards and kitchen areas will become essential locations for meaningful in-person contact. And generally, businesses will need to ensure their workplace provides a welcoming environment in which people feel empowered to convene and co-create.
As the climate crisis accelerates, the need for sustainable workplaces becomes more urgent than ever before. In the coming years, businesses will need to increase their commitments to decarbonisation through renewable energy schemes, sustainable operations, green building materials, and efficient use of space and resources.
Office design will play a key role in delivering and expressing these commitments – helping to reduce workplace impact on the environment and to attract ecologically minded employees. Social and environmental responsibility will certainly be non-negotiable for tomorrow’s workforce. They, therefore, need to be core guiding principles for any genuinely progressive office design scheme.
So, while the office is here to stay, current trends suggest that physical workspace as we know it will look very different in the future. Second only to the advent of the computer, Covid-19 has had one of the biggest impacts on the form and function of the corporate workplace in recent history, ushering in revolutionary new ways of working.
In this shifting landscape, hybrid work, flexibility, technology and sustainability will continue to dominate workplace design solutions. In the coming years, employers and developers will need to be responsive to the evolving preferences and expectations of the post-pandemic workforce. Those that get it right may find that their office spaces and businesses have a long and bright future ahead of them.
We surveyed 1,000 Gen Z and Young Millennial workers to learn more about the things they expect to see in the future workplace.
In this report we share the survey findings and build up some foundational ideas of how the future workplace could be designed.download now