The office is not dead, but its purpose has definitely changed. The pandemic and hybrid working have forced a sudden change in the organisation of work and its spaces. Many companies have started to study and design intelligent offices that focus on employee well-being, safety, and experience.
“The future of work we thought was coming in 10 years” – said Michelle Kaufmann, an American designer involved in the redesign of Google’s office space, in an interview with The New York Times – “Covid has brought us to that future now”.
Traditional corporate offices, especially those that are poorly aligned with employee needs and requirements and have limited collaborative workspaces, will not support the future of work. Most organisations have started their journey towards the smart office by combining an integrated workplace management system powered by emerging technologies such as IoT, artificial intelligence, and machine learning.
John Seabrook, a journalist for The New Yorker, has provided much food for thought on this subject in a long article. He describes how designers and CEOs of large companies are trying to combine the current need for remote working with the indispensable value of the physical workspace in long-term solutions.
The future of work is hybrid, research shows
According to a recent survey by strategy consultancy Gartner, 40% of workers would prefer to work in a combination of locations, rather than working exclusively in the office or from home. A confirmation that the future of work is hybrid.
Evidence that employees want more autonomy and flexibility was evident in this research: –
- Employees’ desired flexibility in terms of location (59%) and working hours (64%) has increased.
- 69% of employees say it is important that employers care about their well-being.
Another dramatic change reveals employees’ preference to spend more time on in-person meetings than online meetings, in complete contrast to pre-pandemic employee responses.
The collective energy of an inclusive and equitable hybrid smart office unites employees in a common purpose and drives them to go the extra mile together.
Redesigning a smart, flexible, and agile office
The natural need for human connection will drive the reinvention of space. Providing a place where employees can come together to socialise and collaborate will become the greatest purpose an office can fulfil.
We need to create intelligent spaces that are purpose-built to cater for the different types of activities employees perform throughout the day. They will need to meet the needs of both collaborative groups and individuals who need to concentrate on a task alone in peace. These should be the steps that guide the design of a post-pandemic workspace: –
- Listening to the needs of employees and try to find a solution based on their specific needs;
- Creating a dedicated office re-organisation team that includes all areas of the company; human resources, designers, facility managers, and internal communication;
- Re-imagining and re-designing the physical office space. A smart office is not just about technology, it is about adopting a ‘hospitality’ approach and creating spaces that employees love;
- Adopting new technologies to create employee-centric smart offices. Digital workplace applications on the market can leverage various emerging technologies such as IoT, artificial intelligence, AR/VR that will enable workers to work faster and smarter.
Focus on safety and new experiences
Many companies, especially in the technology sector, are looking at new configurations of workspaces to provide a new experience for employees and a sense of security for when a stable work routine returns.
The NY Times reports in an article that even a large company like Google is re-thinking the function of offices. The US company is creating a post-pandemic workplace that will accommodate employees who have grown accustomed to working from home and no longer want to be in the office all the time. To create a consistent hybrid meeting experience, it is creating a new meeting room called ‘Campfire’, in which in-person participants sit in a circle interspersed with large vertical displays. The displays show the faces of people who are virtually connected, so remote participants have a similar meeting experience to those who are physically present.
The office therefore is and remains the key place to foster social connection, the place where a company’s culture is expressed and innovation is generated. This is why it will not lose its role in the future.