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 Tonya Dybdahl, Space Planning and Design Manager for National Business Furniture.
What will be the 3 biggest lasting changes to the workplace caused by COVID?
In short, the workspace will become employee-driven, not rules-based:
Tech-ready workspaces are not optional. Starting with software, most companies have embraced large-scale video, audio, and chat-based collaboration suites like Microsoft Teams and Slack, accenting these overarching solutions with customized add-ons, such as Trello. The physical office will need to accommodate the additional chatter, increasing the need for larger cubicles with sliding doors, acoustic panels, and higher partitions (which will come in handy during cold & flu season as well). Tech-enabled features will be in high demand, which we’ve expanded upon in Question 2.
Remote and semi-remote workers will be more common. Their needs will be reflected in the workplace, creating a mixed need for permanent as well as hoteling (or hot desk) workstations. These solutions need to be ready for use and easy to clean at the end of the day. Conference rooms will see an emphasis on quick video and audio connection, building in screens, power solutions, and A/V equipment. When anybody is working from home, they’ll be able to join in in-person activities with ease.
What works best for individuals will be embraced. Abandoning the one-size-fits-all mentality of the now dated workweek will become the norm, rather than the exception made for the exceptional. Personally preferable hours, loosely-structured WFH schedules, and inherent flexibility will be considered as needed, guided by supervisors and managers rather than senior leadership. This will benefit employees that crave structure, have mitigating circumstances, want more freedom, and those who need an employer-managed workday alike.
What workplace technologies will be the most important in the years ahead?
We’ll need to acknowledge the infrastructure necessary for software to work. Building upon the first point in question one, this will affect both personal workspaces as well as collaborative areas. Making sure that employees have furniture that’s friendly to laptops/docks, such as built-in risers, as well as adequate power sources will greatly define cubicle design. If you’ve added a standing-height desk to each station, make sure that it can accommodate all peripherals, monitors, and laptops, not just a small split from the larger desk.
In conference rooms and touchdown spaces, incorporating screens, cameras, and speakers is just the start. Conference tables with built-in outlets, USB ports (including the latest supported ports), and A/V ports will become the norm instead of a bonus. Charging storage, tech caddies, and helpful accessories will need a home. Building this into your layout is key.
What will the workplace of the future look like?
It will feel different but not necessarily look different. Design tenets don’t need to change all that much. Aside from a push to modernize in order to attract younger talent, there’s still a lot of reliable designs made by the leading contract furniture suppliers. The way we interact with these mainstays and new additions will change, though. Private workstations will still need to be laid out in a thoughtful way, conference areas will need to be plentiful, and normal staples (chairs, storage, etc.) won’t disappear overnight. A lot of designs that were created for call center environments may make their way into formerly quiet spaces in order to accommodate virtual meetings at one’s desk. Historically, these solutions have been feature-rich but hard to distinguish from their base model counterparts.
There will be an increased demand for personal space, be it at a permanent workstation or in individual areas throughout the office. Part of this will come from wellness concerns coming out of COVID-19, not just as preventative measures but out of concerns for future crises or an upcoming cold & flu season. Single-person soundproof areas will become a great place to have a virtual one-on-one meeting with a remote colleague, eliminating the guilt that comes with occupying a whole conference room for a small meet up.
What can organizations do to prepare for this new future?
Listen to experts but don’t forget about employee opinions. The internet is a rich source of information and a great place to start, but nothing can top personalized expert advice. Consult a space planner, interior designer, or salesperson that specializes in commercial interiors. This guidance will consider any of your unique circumstances and you might find some unexpected solutions that online guides don’t always provide. If you’re still in an all-employee WFH period, get moving on an office refresh that will be ready by the time that employees make their way back.
As you make these changes, ask for employee feedback to gauge the needs of individuals, departments, and the workforce at large. You might find that your proposed changes might hinder productivity rather than enhance it or perhaps you’ll stumble upon creative solutions you hadn’t considered. Clear communication is never a bad thing. While you finalize your plans, let the organization know about what new and exciting changes are soon to come.