The death of the office, empty buildings, agile working and the return of the cubicle have all been predicted as potential outcomes of the pandemic. In a post-Covid world, there’s no way to know with certainty what the changes will be, but one thing I am confident about is that people will want to go back to the office. We’re fundamentally social beings; we require interaction and a cultural sense of belonging. The best office design facilitates meaningful and productive connections and helps underpin and amplify culture. So the agile workplace won’t disappear, but it will evolve.
Most significantly, nearly all employees will be mobile and require a network of locations, with the home office becoming another agile or activity-based work setting. I predict that many employees will want to continue working regularly from home, with a potential increase of 30 per cent working from home two or more days a week.
Top, above: Agile workspace at Sky Central, west London – completed in 2016 – with workplace design by Hassell, building concept architecture by AL_A and interior and executive architecture by PLP Architecture (phs: Mark Cocksedge).
As organisations test the balance between working from the office and home, the role of the office will change significantly. We will be more deliberate about when and why we go into the office. With more individual work taking place at home, the focus of the office will be on facilitating group activities, building team dynamic, and fostering community, with the emphasis on creating ideal employee experience becoming more important than ever. Communal spaces will play a greater role in shaping the workplace experience, with a lesser emphasis on individual spaces such as desks, quiet rooms or phone booths.
Organisations will have to work harder to make the office a preferred destination – as well as an interactive ‘brand ambassador’ – while potentially still dealing with the physical restrictions required to maintain the health and safety of staff and visitors.
Before Covid-19, boundaries between work, life, learning, and play were already becoming increasingly blurred, with work encroaching on private time. Post-Covid, this will perhaps become more of a two-way street, with staff expecting to maintain the live-work balance and the health and wellbeing benefits of home-working on their return to the office.
Technology will be essential in enabling a more remote model of agile working. Employees’ expectations will be for a seamless office-to-home experience. And organisations will want to ensure that staff can maintain productivity and engagement, wherever they are. Employees will require the appropriate tech set-up to allow the operation of physical and digital ‘office twins’.
Smart buildings and the use of smart data will become more fully utilised, as organisations looks to maximise the use of space”
Smart buildings and the use of smart data, to track who sits where over the course of a day for example, will become more fully utilised, as organisations looks to maximise the use of space, while ensuring that teams can work together safely and efficiently. Companies may choose to allocate space differently on different days, modelling the needs of the organisation over a typical week, with allowances for spontaneous activity. They may allow teams to rotate the use of shared office spaces, and assign teams designated home-working days based on their activity patterns. Cleaning regimes and other space-management tasks will also have to programmed, with these new activity schedules in mind.
Beyond the technological and physical changes, the cultural changes will also be significant. In particular, this is likely to put a full stop of the idea of fixed workplace attendance or ‘presenteeism’ as a way of measuring productivity. This pause is an ideal opportunity for organisations to take what’s been learnt during the crisis to increase employee engagement and creativity and unlock productivity and growth.
Finally, economic changes mean the ‘freelance’ model and mind-set will probably increase, creating flex in the core employee base, and helping companies to be agile in the face of any future crises. This will place more pressure on the office as an ‘attractor’ and ‘connector’ for a more transient and fragmented workforce .
Will the workplace change and evolve? Absolutely. The best organisations will use this as opportunity to build positive culture, achieve organisational goals and drive the sort of change that may even have seemed impossible before.