Office design will be driven by the wellbeing as well as safety of staff, says Despina Katsikakis, Head of Occupier Business Performance at Cushman & Wakefield


There’s nothing like a large data set to shape our thinking about the future of workplace design. Fortunately for me — through some proprietary tools from my company — I have access to 2.5m workplace experience data points from employees all over the world pre-Covid-19, plus an additional 1.7m points from 40,000 people now working from home.

Largely, our data supports what’s been widely reported. Employees working from home remain productive and are collaborating more than ever. But it’s not all good news for people or corporate culture. Employees feel like they are losing meaningful personal connections and their ability to bond with colleagues. Many feel distant from their organisation’s culture. And the informal learning and mentoring opportunities of the workplace are hard to replicate virtually.

Our data demonstrates beyond doubt that employees want more flexibility to work remotely”

Our data demonstrates beyond doubt that employees want more flexibility to work remotely, but the office will still have great value for them — and that’s why it’s here to stay. It just won’t look or feel quite the same, because the purpose of the traditional office will shift. And while no two organisations will have the same priorities, some common themes will shape office design.

The first is that the office will increasingly become vital as an inspiring destination to strengthen employees’ cultural connection to the organisation. It will be a place where people come to learn and to bond with customers and colleagues. And it will be the central hub for innovation and creativity. But it will be just one among several diverse virtual and physical places in a greater workplace ecosystem that will provide the choice of where, when and how people work to support their convenience, functional needs and wellbeing.

Of course, this shift brings tremendous opportunities for innovation in workplace design, and designers will face increasing demand to create unique and memorable destinations, and focus on user experience.

A second theme is that organisations will remain focused on a people-first approach. The safety and wellbeing of the employees won’t only be prioritised as people return to the office after pandemic restrictions ease, but a focus on designing for wellness — alongside relevant certification — will now become basic requirements. For example, we will expect offices to at least meet recommended standards for air quality.

The pandemic has sped up the evolution of the workplace”

My third theme is balancing ubiquitous technology with humanity. We now use technology across all aspects of our lives, and will increasingly leverage it in the design and operation of space. Innovation around using our personal devices to dynamically manage touchless interfaces with the office has been greatly accelerated by the pandemic. Such technology – used to book rooms, or operate biometric entrance protocols, order food, find colleagues or measure air quality in real time – will become the norm. However, the more we rely on technology, the more we crave meaningful connections to each other and the natural environment. So using natural materials in design and embracing sustainability and the circular economy will become essential.

In many ways, the pandemic has sped up the evolution of the workplace. Technology has enabled us to work remotely for many years, but having maintained productivity during this time has transformed the perception and trust from managers that work can be done remotely. It’s paved the way for more flexibility, allowing for work to get done across a variety of environments. I have no doubt the office will still have a prominent place in the future workplace ecosystem, but it will look and feel different, becoming an inspiring destination to enable human connections, to strengthen bonds, to surprise and delight, and to ignite ideas and foster innovation.