A recent IA Interior Architects article points out that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on design and corporate real estate has been one of the “great social experiments of modern times”. As organizations are now beginning to start (or have started) their back-to-the-office strategies, that statement is applied to our next steps as an industry. As designers, we have an opportunity and a responsibility to understand the effects this may have on the built environment and to be part of the development of purposeful and positively impactful design strategies. We referenced several of the recently published articles about this topic in order to summarize some commonalities, and below are our top takeaways from the “Back to the Office” research:
Flexibility, Choice, and Balance
Every article we read touched on flexibility as a key factor. This concept isn’t new to the post-pandemic workplace, but it will definitely be a driving force going forward. Some key takeaways:
- “Flexibility is expected” (Cubicall), and “Flexibility is Key” (NELSON)
- The need to balance socialization/ collaboration and privacy (Cubicall, Herman Miller) with “work settings uniquely tuned to socialization, individual focus, and immersive teamwork” (Herman Miller)
- Acknowledge the workplace will be a “Shapeshifting environment” (NELSON), therefore there will be a need to consider modular planning (Allsteel) and “implementing zoning and partitioning features…” (NELSON)
Focus on creating spaces for socialization that support and enhance culture
Two things that can’t be truly replicated in a remote-work environment are social interaction and culture. Establishing opportunities for social interaction and reinforcing organizational culture through design will be ultra-important in a post-pandemic society. A common recommended goal is to create a workplace that becomes a destination space where people will want to come to, as opposed to have to (NELSON). Top points:
- For many “workplace will remain a useful tool and location for fostering and reinforcing organizational culture and driving innovation” (IA)
- People are looking to socialize and collaborate with their peers (Cubicall, Herman Miller)
- Preservation of culture is important. “To remain relevant, offices of the future will need to build culture and community, support individual focus, and facilitate intensive teamwork” (Herman Miller)
- The “office will be a destination for the creative mind and a place for socializing and informal knowledge sharing” (IA)
- The “Social Hub” concept: Reimagine amenity-type spaces as a “vibrant hub where different modes of work can happen simultaneously” (Steelcase)
- Workplace socialization fosters learning, creative thinking, and productivity, therefore the workplace should “promote social cohesion”, provide a “sense of belonging” (Allsteel), and “facilitate immersive, on-site collaboration” (Herman Miller)
- “…the experience of culture and rewarding collaborative experiences will be at the office” (IA)
Designing w/ Empathy
Herman Miller’s article said it best: People want to feel supported. And, IA reiterates by encouraging organizations to “Lead with empathy…”. As designers, we’ve always been responsible for creating safe and supportive spaces, but it’s taken on a slightly new meaning as it relates to a post-COVID workplace. “Empathy driven environments” that support all “work styles and workers” will be top-of-mind (NELSON). Things to note:
- The perception of cleanliness and addressing employee health will need to be at the forefront (Cubicall)
- Side note: if an organization is interested in on-site testing to promote visible health efforts, Cubicall’s Exam Pods are a “safe and efficient way to test on-site and isolate positive employees”.
- The workplace needs to be the “creation of a safe haven for employees” (IA)
- Corporations must “Embrace a renewed sense of energy” around back-to-office design (NELSON)
Reality of Patience
As designers, we want to solve problems for our clients quickly, but as IA suggests, we should remember to identify short-term versus long-term solutions. Even though a lot of the common concepts are not entirely new strategies, the reality is that there is likely to be some trial and error in determining which implementations ultimately work best. “Defining social distancing protocols for short term” will be important, but there may be more applicable solutions for the long-term (IA). We should “anticipate a transition period” (IA), and acknowledge the reality of “experimenting” (Allsteel).
Perhaps arguably the most obvious of the commonalities is the need to embrace technology and digital communication tools (IA). Coupled with the balance concept, NELSON’s article recommends that we marry the “virtual and face to face” interactions with in-office and remote colleagues. There will be an emphasis on “where work is done, how work is done, and how technology will continue to augment the way we create and innovate…” (IA).
Even with a hybrid work approach, it’s clear that the overall consensus is that the workplace will remain an important and relevant part of our professional lives. And while many of the common recommendations we identified are not necessarily new concepts, they have become more important and accepted due to the pandemic. We’ll leave you with this: “Workplace’s role in driving innovation, well-being, and furthering social capital will become even more relevant” (IA).
Do you agree with the takeaways or have additional insight to share? Tell us about it!
Also – don’t forget to enter our latest Board Contest that’s centered around a Back-to-the-Office theme!
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