For many people, the pandemic caused a sudden switch from going to an office everyday to working from home.
Employees found there were definitely some perks of the setup, like not having to commute, getting to wear cozy clothes all day and being home with their loved ones and fur babies. Some even found themselves being more productive in the peace and quiet of their own home.
But at the same time, many have yearned for the social aspects of being in an office with coworkers again.
“One of the things people have been missing a lot of is that one-to-one networking happening at that water cooler and break room,” said Meena Krenek, an interior design director at Perkins & Will, an architecture and design firm that focuses on office spaces. “A lot of organizations we talk to really believe that innovation, collaboration, networking and culture have to happen in a workplace."
As some employers welcome their staffers back to the office, many are looking at ways to redesign their spaces for the new normal. TMRW chatted with office design experts to find out what trends they’re seeing now, and what they predict the future workplace will look like.
1. Offices will feel more cozy and residential.
“Everything’s becoming much more casual in the office space,” said Devin Shaffer, a lead interior designer at Decorilla, an online interior design service that specializes in homes as well as businesses and commercial offices.
“People have been (working from home) for a year and a half, so they want it to feel like home to a certain degree,” he said, adding that he’s seeing more desks getting replaced with comfy sofas and other residential-style furniture.
He also mentioned that while the open layout is still huge for offices, he’s seeing more themed nooks where people can choose to work. For example, one corner of the office might have funky wallpaper and bright neon colors while another might have a cozy leather chair and more traditional style accents. “It allows people to find their spot,” he said. “Why go to an office and sit under fluorescent lights and in a cubicle? Nobody’s going to do it. There’s got to be that allure.”
2. Collaborative spaces will be the center of the workplace.
Many companies are allowing employees to continue working from home or using a hybrid model so that not everyone is in the office at the same time. So, what does the workplace become? “It’s a resource for meeting and collaborating,” Krenek said. “Some clients are removing some of their open office space to put more meeting spaces — enclosed or open,” she said, adding that it’s not just the typical conference rooms of the past. These days, it’s special rooms to conduct video calls, small spaces for one-on-one meetings, even cafe lounges to grab a cup of coffee while you sit and work and interact with others.
She said she’s also seeing more adjustable workspaces, where employees can quickly move things around and curate the office to how they need it. For example, there will be movable dividers to create meeting areas, tables that can be adjusted for how many people are in there and even flat screens that can move around the office. “We’ve been able to curate our space at home,” she said. “If you’re going back to the office, a person needs to have the ability to control the space.”
3. Technology will be even more important.
“Offices are investing in a lot of new technology,” Shaffer said. With the rate of people hopping on video calls these days, he said he’s been noticing employers putting in larger screens, high-resolution cameras and microphones to make it feel like the other person is right in the room.
And, of course, some high-tech investments are being made to mitigate the spread of Covid-19 and other viruses that could be passed around an office. Air filtration enhancements don’t necessarily mean an HVAC overhaul. “You can now get planters that work as air filters, where the bottom is an air filtration system and the top is a plant,” he said. “You can have bookcases where the back is a whole filtration system cleaning the air. It’s aesthetically pleasing, but also functional. It looks like furniture.”
Krenek said she’s seeing more of a focus on touchless technology, like sinks and soaps dispensers, voice-activation sensors and antimicrobial buttons. All of those things existed before, but are much more commonly used right now, she said.
4. Companies will offer their employees more amenities.
Remember when pingpong tables or free snacks were a big deal amenity? These days, many companies are going ever bigger with the amenities they’re offering and trying to make the office feel more like home.
Mini markets with free food and drinks, gyms, bars for happy hour and food truck parties in the parking lot … the list goes on and on. Shaffer said he’s even seeing some offices put in Amazon lockers so you can get deliveries directly to the office. “You can literally order something, and two hours later it’s in the locker,” he said.
5. Coworking spaces are going to boom.
The past year and a half showed employees and their employers that they don’t necessarily have to be in the same office to be productive. Some of them don’t even need to be in the same city. But for those who want to work remotely yet need a space other than home, a coworking space might be the next best thing.
“(Coworking spaces) promote a certain amount of privacy, and I think they are going to boom because you have control over how engaged you are and you can socially distance,” said Shaffer. He said many of the spaces are being much more flexible with their plans since the pandemic, so you could rent a desk for just one day or even a conference room for a couple of hours instead of having to pay for a full month.
6. Health and wellness will be factored into the design.
The pandemic has made us all even more focused on our health and well-being, and that is something employers are keeping in mind when redesigning office spaces. “I think there’s a new profound mindset around health,” Krenek said, adding that she’s hearing lots of companies asking how to incorporate more things like greenery and natural light in the office.
“Outdoor work environments have also been a big push,” she said. From rooftops to gardens, many companies are creating outside offices that feature tables with power outlets, adjustable shading devices and lots of plants. “One organization is asking us to create space in their parking lot to create pavilions so people can work outside,” she said. Of course, working outside year-round will depend on the weather of the location.
“That can happen in L.A., but it’s harder in Chicago and New York,” she said.