As offices are left empty around the world, we wonder, has the pandemic marked the death of the office? How will the post-pandemic workplace operate, and how can we build positive workplaces in the new world we’re stepping into? OnOffice Magazine joins hand with us to thrash out this crucial crossroad.
Even before the pandemic struck, the future of the office was a hotly debated topic among many. Some proclaimed the ‘death of the desk’ was near, while others predicted coworking behemoths like WeWork would pave the way for the future workplace as workers increasingly craved a feeling of connectedness and community.
Covid-19 has turned all of this on its head. Ever since lockdowns were imposed the world over, for many, the comfort of our four walls replaced the daily office buzz. Zoom calls replaced endless meetings, and task chairs were swapped for cosier, homelier alternatives. While the ‘softening’ trend (i.e. bringing the home to work), has increasingly permeated the office landscape in recent years, the question isn’t necessarily how the post-pandemic office will look, but what the post-pandemic office will be?
With a chance to make positive and necessary changes that will improve our physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing at work, perhaps this moment of crisis will allow for strong, new innovations to flourish, so that we can ultimately, together, build a better world for all.
Clockwise from top left: Gareth Cain, Design Director, AAID; Jessica-Christin Hametner, Editor, OnOffice Magazine; Lisa Miller, Director, Product Insights & Applications, HNI; Priya Manoharan, Ideation Research Analyst, Haworth
Do we still see the value in physical office spaces?
Before Covid-19 struck, the future of the office was debatable. With less space, rising rents, a digital revolution and a planet crying out for help, our populations already began finding alternative places to work, be it a coworking space, such as WeWork, a local café or our kitchen at home. As Covid-19 began to spread around the globe, we saw office buildings rapidly emptying, from London to Dubai to New York. Do we still see the value in having offices? In a post-pandemic world should we focus on bringing the pre-pandemic office back to life or concentrate on building a new and better type of workplace?
Working from home vs working from an office
It seems we’ve always had a clear distinction between work and home, clearly separating the boundaries between work and leisure. However, since the lockdown that world has somewhat blurred into one – we now exercise, work, and entertain, all at home. It’s clear that we’ve spent a huge amount of time not only in offices, but also commuting to the office and, as a result, sometimes less time at home with our families. Is it perhaps time to re-examine our relationship with offices and explore how a new, and healthier, workplace would look like? Could we find an answer in how coronavirus has impacted design for remote workers?
And what about home offices – could home-working, and for those who don’t have access to the latest technology or enough space for a home office, exacerbate inequalities?
The new office could potentially be a palette offering whatever an employee needs
As Priya suggests, now that the world has experienced flexi working, working both long distance and from home, and working from within a dedicated office space, we have come back with a changed and more evolved mindset. So maybe, the new office could be a place that accommodates all working styles, and acts as a service that offers a palette of workspaces, technology and hybrid platforms to work from.
Where do co-working spaces fit in all of this? Are they a healthy alternative?
In the past, office design has been somewhat underwhelming. Whether poor lighting or ergonomics, our wellbeing at work was rarely taken into consideration, and consequently, did little to boost our efficiency or comfort. However, in recent years and with the rise of numerous co-working spaces, a number of beautiful workplaces have sprouted up everywhere, challenging the status quo.
Completely transforming the notion of work, some co-working companies have injected a touch of luxury and style into our world of work, along with exclusive memberships and free coffee. How do you expect co-working spaces to be impacted by COVID-19? Does the pandemic make co-working spaces even more important than before?
Can we expect to see a resurgence of individual offices vs open plan
Will private enclaves make a comeback? The panelists unanimously hope not as it has taken years of breaking down a certain mindset (for the better).
What role would technology play post pandemic?
As Gareth points out, technology has overtaken the corporate space universally, and some companies that had not kept up to pace were almost caught out. Lisa believes, going back to work, the new offices will include a lot more embedded technology, which would not only increase efficiency, but also prove a lot more hygienic.
How would you like to see your office space evolve? What would be your favourite morphosis?
Taking into account all that has been discssed – the popularity of co-working spaces, the nostalgia of office life, and the excitement of shaping the workplace of tomorrow, how you would like to see your workspaces evolve, both in design, as well as our emotional and physical wellbeing. What role can we play in creating better, healthier and safer environments to work in? What changes do you hope to see?