When most businesses begin to embrace a hybrid-work model post-pandemic, office designs will shift, embodying several trends that seek to build or re-create a more flexible, comfortable work atmosphere, designers say.
While so-called hot desking, which involves reserving an unassigned workspace, and multifunctional “pivot spaces,” aren’t new, the two concepts are growing in popularity as corporations determine how to best utilize space with an alternating workforce that’s continually coming and going.
Joyce Bromberg, co-founder of New York-based design firm Vanguard Collaborative, says that the trends are similar to those prior to the pandemic.
Businesses were already turning to hybrid (and flexible spaces) before the pandemic hit, she says.
“This whole trend is not new, but what Covid has done is accelerate it,” Bromberg said.
Offices used to be places to collaborate and get individual work done, but now will shift to an emphasis on the former, she says.
In the current period, offices are being used establish and maintain corporate culture, while home is for “individual heads-down work,” Bromberg added.
Kathryn Leslie, the Ottawa-based head of corporate operations for The Nook app, which helps coordinate hybrid office teams, agrees.
“Individuals are no longer solely interested in coming into the office to work independently, rather they are coming in when they need to brainstorm with their colleagues,” she said. “These types of spaces are driving the return to office in the hybrid environment and are expected to supersede the individual desk as the default place to work when in-office.”
Designs that bolster learning, innovation
The challenge in hybrid work is not just to define spaces but to ensure people come together to use them, Leslie notes.
“This adds a new dimension to not only ensure the right place, but also the right people and the right time,” Leslie explained.
Offices, whether refitted or newly built, will feature more shared spaces that can support learning, innovation and decision-making, Bromberg says.
Some of these spaces need to have specific amenities, such as whiteboards and places for displays that reflect project planning, while design will center around a relaxed atmosphere so people aren’t tethered to desks all day, she says.
At the same time, some companies are also focusing on adherence to health protocols, improving ventilation infrastructure or making open windows a priority, Bromberg notes. Returning workers should expect to see fewer executive spaces and more outdoor work areas, she adds.
Reid Hiatt, CEO of Utah-based technology platform Tactic, a company that helps businesses optimize their office layouts, agrees that collaboration hubs are on the rise, as are break rooms and added windows.
“They may replace four individual desks with a small huddle room so that a small group of four can work together more intimately when at the office,” he said.
Other clients have opted for complete makeovers that include more windows, more open space and recreation rooms so the office is more of a place where people can go to get to know each other, Hiatt adds.
“Many companies are investing heavily in their conference rooms, with high-quality screens and speakers to make meetings more friendly to remote workers,” he said.
“It’s odd to think about, but for some companies, the role of the office and employees’ homes have swapped, where the office is where employees go to hang out and their own homes are where they get the majority of their work done,” Hiatt added.
For those who want to be seen but protected, some offices may soon include sterilized work pods, according to Ravi Sawhney, founder and CEO of RKS Design in California.
His firm is designing a sterilized, removable pod that will gauge biometrics and separate workers so that they feel safe returning to work.
“We’re working with one of our clients to address the permanent fear instilled in people about being too close to others who may be visibly ill or who may not be visibly ill,” Sawhney explained.
The high-tech, hybrid-friendly office
Christina Kern, the co-founder of the Virginia-based Campfire & Co., an interior designer, says that carefully designed virtual meeting spaces with proper acoustics, good lighting, thoughtful textures and complementary colors are essential.
“Even when video isn’t involved, having a small, acoustic-paneled phone booth cuts down on echo and background noise for important calls,” she said.
Embracing technology is one of the quickest and cheapest ways to adapt to a hybrid work mode, Kern added.
Jessica Mann-Amato, design principal and co-owner of office-design firm Mancini Duffy in New York City, agrees that spaces are becoming more functional and much more high tech. In other words, they’ll have plenty of plug-in spots and tech integrations at the ready.
“Upgrading technology to seamlessly integrate as an invisible layer in every office space will make your overall work experience more fluid,” Mann-Amato said.