Rethinking The Office Space


September 21, 2020

Rethinking The Office Space

The office will remain a vital space in the post-pandemic world but it is in for a change.

The open floor plan may give way to modern cubicles in the future office. Photo: Learning + Innovation Centre in München, Steelcase. Photo credit: Courtesy of Steelcase

While the Covid-19 pandemic taught us that it was possible for companies to operate remotely and for employees to work from home with the technologies available today, it doesn’t signal the end of offices. In reality, the office is likely to endure so long as natural collaboration, informal interaction and overall human connection between employees is essential for growth, productivity and success of an organisation.

This is not to say that the office space will stay the same. If anything, the pandemic may be a turning point in the way we work, which will pave the way for the office of the future. However, imminent change will centre on how to keep the office safe for employees to drive an organisation’s business goals, with perhaps some restructuring of the way we work. Some of the significant changes that we may see in offices in the post-pandemic world include:

Desks can be fitted with plexiglass barrier for protection of employees. Photo credit: mixetto.

1.The End Of Open Floor Plan (and Return of The Cubicle)

This may actually come as a relief for a lot of employees who weren’t fond of the open floor plan. Although aesthetically pleasing and a signature of the modern office, it was often considered to be more of a source of distraction than effective in serving its intended purpose, which is breaking down barriers between colleagues and encouraging collaboration and a sense of camaraderie. With the arrival of Covid-19, the open floor concept, communal spaces and workstations also became risk factors for virus transmission. Some of the suggestions to tackle this problem include bringing the cubicle back or installing plexiglass barriers or sneezeguard between desks.

Communal spaces outside the office may become a staple in the office of the future to enable safe collaboration thanks to good air flow and promote overall wellbeing. Photo credit: Courtesy of Landscape Forms.

2.Outdoor Communal Spaces

Already a growing trend for offices before the pandemic, now, open-air communal spaces will likely become a standard design choice to ensure proper ventilation. With areas where employees usually gather to collaborate and interact such as meeting rooms, pantries or recreation rooms being often enclosed and as a result, having poor ventilation, these spaces will likely be repositioned outdoors or in open spaces for better air flow.

Air filtration systems like HEPA filters which effectively removes viruses from the air will be a necessity. Photo credit: 1989_s.

3.Modified Air Flow

In an enclosed space, horizontal air flow from an open window or the ventilation system can increase the chances for virus to travel through the office and land on surfaces. Some of the solutions suggested include installing air filters like HEPA filters and UV light, which removes viruses from the air. Ventilation can also be modified so the air flows down from the ceiling instead of from the floor up or horizontally. Modifying the air flow of the ventilation system where the air goes from up to down instead of down to up, can stop horizontal movement of viruses and push them to the floor instead.

Furniture that can be adapted and tailored for different functions can be an option to enable one space to be used for different occasions. Photo credit: Courtesy of: Steelcase.

4.Adaptable or Multi-Functional Furniture

The requirement for physical distancing made it necessary for employees' workstations to be at least 6 feet apart, which posed problems for offices with communal desks or stationary workspaces that were too close to each other. Having no choice, some desks had to be kept empty with a fraction of employees assigned to work from home. A solution may be to have furniture that can be moved and adapted according to the needs of the office at any time.

To minimise chances of disease transmission, companies will likely adopt sensor technology or facial recognition so employees won’t need to use their hands to clock in, turn on the the lights or get the elevator. Photo credit: Metamorworks.

5.Sensor Technology

With most of the technological devices we use today such as smartphones and tabs still require human contact with touch screens, shared devices will likely be minimised. This includes touch screen access at entry and exit points of the offices or amenities in communal spaces.

Companies could rethink how they work with the use of technology and re-examine the roles needed in the office and what can be done remotely. Photo credit: mixetto.

6.Restructuring The Office To The Type Of Work

Moving forward, companies will likely reassess the way they work to identify what can be done remotely, the roles that are needed in the office and to what degree. This can inform the design of the office according to an article by McKinsey. For example, if an organisation where most of its employees work remotely and are required to come together once or twice a week, perhaps an office with cubicles will not be necessary but one with a big collaboration room would work better.

Links to HEPA and McKinsey articles:
Links to Landscape Forms and Steelcase for photo credit
Main Pic:
Outdoor Communal Space:
Adaptable & Multifunctional Furniture