As anyone who works in the sector knows, the design and architecture industry loves to declare a crisis. The widely shared assertions that the pandemic will lead to the death of the office has – for some – presented just that. A decade ago, a similar moment of introspection arose as the concept of hotdesking started to take off, with more and more companies deciding to shrink their office space and strip out personal desks in favour of shared workspaces.
Rather than this leading to the degradation of the design of commercial space, it had the more widespread, multifaceted effect of creating different types of workspace tailored to a workforce of savvy digital nomads. This dovetailed with the rise of the shared workspace as well as sleek members’ clubs, where those newly turfed-out office workers could sip coffee in sophisticated surrounds as they completed their work assignments, giving new meaning to the ‘daily grind’.
What’s noticeable is that even with the infinite flexibility provided by the prospect of hotdesking, in reality people didn’t just work from ‘anywhere’. No one chooses to work in a fast-food cafe or a motorway service station. Instead, they choose to sit among side-eyeing hipsters in centrally located spaces, with curated furniture, instagrammable neons and jars of sweets – places that reflect the aspirations and identities of this new wave of workers.
Today, the industry’s latest declared crisis shares parallels to that first hotdesking wave, with many questioning the relevance of the shared physical space and its likely future. But far from being dead, the office is so alive to change and opportunity, that’s what makes it exciting. Whilst employees are likely to have even more freedom than before, there remains a huge appetite for a return to a shared space where a company’s culture can flourish, even if the traditional function of the office may have shifted.
Many of the conversations about returning to work highlight a need for a ‘well designed place to meet, to collaborate etc’, meaning. The importance of aesthetics is clear: Good design lies at the heart of the future of work.
Good design matters
If the past year has taught us anything, it’s the value of our physical environment. With our homes performing multiple roles while we’re confined to the same four walls, how and where we work has been put under the microscope like never before. When we are granted more freedom, where will we choose to spend it? Why would anyone tackle bus, train or tube to sit in an office that doesn’t give them more professional and personal fulfilment than if they remained at their kitchen table?
Placing greater value on well-curated spaces gives your workforce a reason to brave the commute. Creating space that connects, engages and inspires people in all the ways we’ve missed since March 2020 is more important than ever.
If industry predictions are to be believed, our WFH reality is soon likely to be replaced by a hybrid setup, with CEOs expected to give their staff more flexibility to flit between home and office, with the latter’s main function shifting to more collaborative usage without an ironing-board desk or curious toddler in sight.
We’ve all learnt plenty during our time at home – how good lighting, furniture, breakout space and noise-cancelling headphones can revolutionise our working hours. This increased awareness across the board means that – whatever happens next – creating a seductive setting for your staff to realise their potential will continue to be key.
In short, placemaking matters. And people who didn’t think it mattered before have, without question, reset their values.
At Thirdway we believe that being immersed in a well-designed space is a positive and productive thing. The beauty of a space isn’t something that can be easily measured – the very best design can often divide as much as delight – yet its value is far more than skin deep, providing a sense of identity behind which a strong corporate culture can emerge.
This most recent crisis has given architects and designers plenty to ponder as the very concept of a workspace undergoes an existential crisis. And with the coming year set to redefine the future of the office as we know it, we expect to see employees embracing well-designed, aspirational spaces, rather than their local Burger King. Rethinking and refurbishing space can be a significant investment but get it right and you will reap the reward. Take the lead and put a focus on great design to ensure your office is a place where people want to be.