What is the future of the office, and how will it be impacted by working from home?

The COVID-19 pandemic has led some organisations and many individuals to question the workplace model where people commuted every day to centralised offices, often in the centres of large cities and towns. Periods of enforced lockdown and social distancing have enabled many to realise that their work can be performed efficiently from home, with the additional benefit of an improved work/life balance. As businesses now start to re-evaluate their workplace requirements, many are questioning what the future holds for the office.

In this paper, Associate Director and workplace design specialist Mark Doughty discusses the necessity for dedicated workplaces while recognising that landlords, employers and designers will need to adapt the traditional working model to embrace the lessons being learned and to strive for smarter and more agile work practices in the future.

COVID-19: A catalyst for change?

For decades, people have been travelling to and from their offices every day, often because their employer automatically expects this. The ongoing pandemic has forced many of us to embrace remote working practices, with employers and employees now realising there are some tangible benefits to be gained from this model.

For many people, productivity has improved for a number of reasons. Some people reported fewer distractions when working from home and were able to reallocate up to three hours of their day to work-focused tasks which would otherwise be lost commuting. Importantly, many people noted an overall improvement in their work/life balance, managing their time to be able to exercise more or to spend more time with their families.

Conversely, some people are less productive, either because they have no suitable space to work or because effective collaboration with colleagues is simply not replicable over video conferencing, especially if also juggling childcare arrangements. The realisation for many is that the pandemic has underlined the importance of the workplace across a number of sectors and also the importance of the non-work-related interactions that happen there.

We can therefore expect to see more flexible ways of working in the future that address the needs of both the employer and employee. While some companies already offer a more flexible working approach, the pandemic will likely accelerate a global change in workplace culture, maximising the benefits of the physical workplace, but also of virtual remote working.

Why is the workplace important?

The office environment offers businesses and organisations several advantages. To be social, to reinforce a company culture and to strengthen relationships, but ultimately to build a community of people with a common set of objectives.

Mentoring of our younger staff, the future generations of our businesses, is critical – not just for employers, but also for the development of the individuals themselves. Speaking from personal experience, I learned most of what I know by listening and learning from those around me, picking up on snippets of telephone conversations or collaborating with peers. This will not happen for someone working in isolation. The office provides real life experiences and the ability to safely put into practice what has been learned from others.

The office is also a destination, a reason to get out of bed every day, providing a much-needed structure to the working week. While commuting can be laborious, and time could potentially be better allocated to work-related tasks, the act of travelling to and from the office can provide a period of valuable transition that contributes positively towards a more balanced state of mental wellbeing.

For many creative businesses, like ours, collaboration is a key part of the working process. The office creates the opportunity to jointly generate and share ideas, to solve problems, to test solutions and immediately gauge people’s reactions. Evidence shows that many great innovations and creative sparks happen almost accidentally within the workplace, or in the support spaces therein (e.g. the kitchen or breakout areas) and these chance meetings are difficult to replicate on video conference facilities like Zoom or MS Teams.

Striking a balance – Smart Working

We should recognise that more people are now choosing to work remotely (up from an estimated 20% pre-pandemic to over 50% currently in the UK) and, for some, things will not just return to the way they once were. Some people are forced to work from home due to government or management guidance and will happily return to the office when possible, but others will use this period to re-evaluate how they want to work in the future.

Many businesses, including ours, have started to review their office space requirements, and some may decide they can relinquish excess space if a significant number of their employees are able, and willing, to work remotely. This should not be seen as a negative change, but simply a realisation that businesses can attract talent beyond the geographical location of their physical workplace, and critically, that their growth should not be limited by the square footage of their tenancy.

From an employee’s perspective, improvements in health and wellbeing and a better work/life balance will be the catalyst for permanent change. However, I strongly believe that the future of the workplace, and of workplace culture, lies in the balance struck between the needs of the employer and their staff – i.e. Smart Working.

First and foremost, businesses must function efficiently to be successful. The need for office space will therefore remain because of the dynamism, fluid collaboration and those all-important social and chance interactions with like-minded people that the office environment facilitates. However, we should acknowledge that some changes are necessary, in both workplace culture and in the physical environment of existing and new office spaces, to offer a smarter, more flexible and more attractive way of working that benefits both employers and their staff.

We should also accept that some adaptations may not suit everybody, so, however we choose to work in the future, employers must avoid a one-size-fits-all approach as well as any misconceptions about what people want. We are all different and have various personal and business circumstances that will influence how we want to work in the future. Employers and employees should instead focus on evolving an office culture flexible enough to allow people to work in a variety of ways.

What does this mean for the future of workplace design?

Ultimately, no-one really knows for sure what lies in store for the office format, but the way we design or curate workplaces in the future should be with a view to being flexible and to meeting the specific needs of the people who work there.

People are diverse and have different priorities and expectations. To avoid any preconceptions, the first step should include carrying out a wide-ranging staff survey to collect accurate data about what is important to the people in the business. This can then be used to evolve a new workplace culture and allow us to deliver effective workplace design solutions.

As businesses re-evaluate their workspace requirements, one trend we are likely to see is a shift away from large, centralised office hubs in major cities to a series of smaller satellite, or touchdown, spaces in more suburban locations closer to where people live. These will provide the obvious benefit of cutting commuting time, but businesses will also realise the financial benefit of reducing their premium office space in the centre of large cities and instead complementing it with additional, potentially cheaper, space in smaller towns and on the outskirts of cities. This satellite office space could also be achieved by offering staff subscriptions to co-working space, which will allow them a degree of mobility and a choice of where to work.

The current COVID crisis is but a moment in time and will be a distant memory in a few years. With the use of vaccines, things will return to normality. However, it is important that we do not simply revert to the “old ways” without using our recent experience as a catalyst for positive change in our lives. We should embrace some of the outcomes from the COVID era positively, including the increased use of the available and upcoming technologies and a renewed emphasis on health, wellbeing and the environment.

Workplaces have never been just spaces to work; they are places for people to collaborate, to socialise, to eat well and to exercise. For designers, the challenge is to ensure that our workspaces offer an enhanced environment for all these activities and to provide enjoyable and stimulating spaces that promote successful collaboration and wellbeing.

The new era of office needs to include a wide variety of workspaces such as one-to-one meeting rooms, training rooms, formal and informal collaboration spaces, and economically considered individual workspaces such as adjustable sit-stand desking. The key is to design these spaces to be as adaptable as possible and to facilitate more than one use.

Health and Wellbeing is a fundamental design consideration for architects, developers, and tenants. Maximising natural light, the use of natural ventilation, designing in active circulation routes, and using biophilic elements are essential. New accreditations such as the WELL Building Standard will also become commonplace as tenants reinforce their commitment towards health and wellbeing of their staff.

Why is change important?

As businesses repopulate their workspaces, they may find that the way their offices are accessed, how the circulation routes work within and how the space is utilised, is no longer fit for purpose. This realization can be the catalyst for undertaking major improvements to the work environment and creating a new generation of safe, healthy, flexible, and enjoyable spaces for staff to spend their workdays as effectively as possible.

The quality of the workplace will become one of the key drivers for attracting and retaining the best talent. A number of the most successful businesses are already thinking in this way, and those who do not embrace Smart Working practices face the danger of becoming less competitive in what is a fast-changing and fluid employment landscape.

What is our aim at Chapman Taylor?

Our workplace team are currently conducting some internal R&D to answer the question “How do we want to work in the future?”.

We are undertaking a survey of our staff with a series of pertinent workplace-related questions that will allow us to gain greater insights into the needs and aspirations of our colleagues and to help inform how we redesign our offices and develop a Smart Working culture in the coming months and years.

Our aim is to refine our workplace culture, to work smarter, but most importantly to continue to respect our company core values and to service the needs of our clients to the best of our ability, within a strong and creative environment.

About the Author

Mark Doughty (BA (Hons) BArch)

副董事, 曼彻斯特

Mark joined Chapman Taylor in 2006 becoming an Associate Director in 2016. A key member of the Manchester studio’s management team, Mark has a business development remit for the office workplace sector across the UK business.

He has over 10 years’ experience and has successfully completed a number of major award winning projects across a range of sectors.

He takes an active part in the BCO and completed last year’s Cycle Challenge riding from London to Amsterdam over four days with fifty members of the BCO.

Areas of expertise:

Office / Retail / Delivery / Design Management

Mark joined Chapman Taylor in 2006 becoming an Associate Director in 2016. A key member of the Manchester studio’s management team, Mark has a business development remit for the office workplace sector across the UK business.

He has over 10 years’ experience and has successfully completed a number of major award winning projects across a range of sectors.

He takes an active part in the BCO and completed last year’s Cycle Challenge riding from London to Amsterdam over four days with fifty members of the BCO.

Areas of expertise:

Office / Retail / Delivery / Design Management

caret-down-skewed caret-down-thin caret-down caret-left-thick caret-left-white caret-left caret-right-thick caret-right-white caret-right caret-up chinese cross download english facebook grid instagram linked-in list mail map pinterest play-button reset search-nobg search-square share twitter views wechat youtube