This article is part of Raydiant’s new Future of Workspace Series which features interviews with a wide range of professionals and thought leaders to learn more about the future of office space and how the workplace experience will evolve.
The following is an interview we recently had with Ginny Caldwell, Director of Interior Design, Southeast Venture
What will be the 3 biggest lasting changes to the workplace caused by COVID?
A big trend I’ve seen, that I think will be an enduring one, is the increase in flexible workspaces. I’ve been hearing from clients that employees want more flexibility, since COVID made remote work so much more prevalent, including options to have a hybrid schedule (partly remote, partly in-office). And some are staying fully remote. With employees in and out like that, some companies are opting for downsizing. But more prominently, companies are adding what we call “hotel spaces” – individual or group spaces that are accessible to employees who don’t necessarily need an assigned workspace because they are only in the office some of the time. However, there are still companies doing renovations and expansions to make room for more, not fewer, people in the office.
Another trend that started before the pandemic, but that was further spurred by it, is the addition of more rooms for collaboration and meetings. Even clients that are “more traditional” are doing this. I had a client that, even during quarantine, renovated and created more meeting spaces. There’s a shift toward “on-demand” space where people can gather, beyond the traditional conference room. There’s also a shift away from old-school break rooms – companies are looking for something cooler and more collaborative, where employees can go to gather and take a break OR to work for a while for a change of scenery.
One trend that is directly a result of COVID is the reversal back to taller, modular panels between desks to have more of an enclosure and minimize germ spread. The difference is that many are opting for glass rather than traditional panels to feel less “caged in.” Furniture, in general, is changing to allow for distanced collaboration. For example, one manufacturer we work with is now selling a tent-like structure that can create a collaborative space outside. There are also many options for employees to partition themselves off, like isolation pods and sound-proof booths. Additionally, office furniture manufacturers are focusing on more comfortable furniture for companies looking to provide alternate workspaces, such as lounges or what I like to call “bistros.”
What workplace technologies will be the most important in the years ahead?
Companies are paying more attention to the utilization rate of office space. Some are using sensor technology to determine what spaces people are occupying, when, and how often. Companies can then use this data to validate their office space decisions.
Another technology that is already becoming a norm is room/space reservation technology for collaborative spaces. This is the biggest request we are getting right now when planning office space design.
In addition, with COVID and a new concern about the spread of illness, air filter technology will be a lasting addition to many spaces, including offices.
Some of these technologies were being used before the pandemic, but the pandemic has definitely increased their prevalence.
What will the workplace of the future look like?
In general, workspaces will be more flexible and collaborative. These “on-demand” or “hotel” spaces I mentioned have become very popular. They allow employees to move around the office individually or in groups – they’re no longer necessarily tied to one desk, especially if they’re working on a hybrid schedule.
That being said, many will no longer be tied to an office at all. Remote work and meetings with people from all over will become commonplace – it’s not going to go away now that we’ve seen the possibilities and efficiencies that collaborative technology has opened up.
What can organizations do to prepare for this new future?
Leaders of organizations are already thinking and starting to implement changes, based on the trends above. It’s already playing out that there are employees who don’t want to come back to the office, which indirectly affects how a space is designed and how work gets done.
However, from a design standpoint, there’s no replacement for the energy that a space can give its employees – allowing for collaboration and spontaneity. Run-ins at the coffee machine or water filler can be so important for office culture. Quarantine showed us that we can still collaborate at home, but that requires meetings to be more scheduled and structured. Companies need to be thinking about how to maintain that feeling of togetherness even if employees are more spread out. However, not every industry needs this kind of collaboration, like accounting or finance, so it definitely depends on the company.
Companies already are redefining their work from home and remote work policies. With that, they need to prepare for remote onboarding – how do you connect a new employee with the company culture if they’re not there with everyone? This has been made easier and will continue to become easier, with Zoom and collaboration technology. It overall speaks to the fact that COVID has changed how we approach work schedules, teamwork and physical workspaces, and I think that will have a lasting impact.