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How design & technology will reshape the future workplace

Nabil Sabet explores the design and technology implications of the dual frontier and how future office spaces can adapt.

2020-05-15

By Nabil Sabet
Group Director – New York, San Francisco, Vancouver, Toronto

It’s hard to predict the future in a world turned upside down. But we do know that this is a watershed moment - one that will result in long-term economic and societal changes. Top infectious disease experts warn that the resumption of “normal” life will be a long road back and that our new normal after COVID-19 will look anything but.

There is no replacement for being physically together and the human need for connection will always remain. However, it is certain that the way the workplace functions and accommodates the needs of organisations will change. Businesses must prepare for managing an (at least partially) distributed workforce.

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Designing for the next frontier

We’ve known for years that design plays a vital role in employee health and wellness. However, how companies approach it - from home office set-ups to corporate headquarters - has taken on new urgency and importance. Here’s what is likely to change:

  • Office space will be scrutinised like never before. 

    Government restrictions, shift rotations, booking systems and extending beyond a local workforce will all influence density in the future workplace. Why assign and lock in an office space that is only used some of the time?

    Some companies may choose a smaller footprint, but the importance of a physical workplace for connection, community, co-creation, and more will still exist. In parallel, the realisation that coming to work is a more conscious decision will shift workplace design to more purposeful and strategic spaces.

    These will be intentional spaces that allow people to connect and collaborate. They will provide the experiences that cannot be met by video conferencing and remote work. They will leverage physical proximity requirements to support health, aesthetics and desired behaviours.

  • Ventilation will grow in importance and impact. 

    Depending on how densely a company’s workforce re-occupies a space, more stringent ventilation strategies will be needed. This will combine extraction, air changes, filtering/sterilising and recirculating air. Many of the strategies can be added on with relative ease, while others require deeper coordination with the base-building infrastructure.

    Enclosed rooms and high-density convening areas will require more focus on the extraction systems and airflow within the space. This will be an increasingly critical component enabling people to be in the same space without sacrificing their health or safety.

  • Businesses will borrow from the healthcare industry. 

    Employees will expect, if not demand, that their work environments keep them safe and healthy when they return to the office. Hospital-grade sanitising inside (and outside) offices will no longer be optional.

    Self-cleaning surfaces will become commonplace and anti-microbial materials will feature throughout the office. Ventilation and filtration will form an increased part of workplace design. Light fixtures (UV) will assist in disinfecting the environment and bolstering infection prevention.

  • The home office will be set up from day one.

    Ergonomics and wellbeing standards will extend beyond the workplace to ensure employees maintain their health from home. What was once an independent effort, will now be included in corporate onboarding. The home office is taking shape with stipends and ergonomic, approved checklists of tools and setups. This will ensure that there is no disparity between working from the office and working from home.

    Technology requirements will be met with a streamlined set of prescribed tools and internet access that enables pick-up and plug-in access. Apartment complexes will provide co-working and office amenities, fully uniting work and home capabilities.
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Embracing technology that everyone can use

Before Zoom became a verb, many companies treated virtual meetings as second best to face to face collaboration - no longer.

Regardless of your age or role within the company, the pandemic has forced the world into a mass remote work experiment. Many are discovering its benefits. From Millennials to Baby Boomers, millions have embraced technology and rapidly developed new skills to work remotely. Many have come to realise that age and experience matter much less than resiliency, problem-solving, and flexibility.

So even when the current lockdowns are lifted, virtual working and learning will remain a steady part of our lives. All of this requires a strong underpinning of technology to enable remote working to flourish affordably. Here’s how:

  • The clouds are gathering.

    If they haven’t already, companies will shift away from dependency on anchored technology (e.g. desktops, local servers, etc.) and move quickly to cloud-based platforms. In-office technology will be designed as an extension of remote working. There will be a fluid transition to flexible working between the home and the office.

  • Instead of Ubering, let’s Zoom to the meeting.

    The technology platforms (and the vernacular) we use to convene meetings will profoundly change. Virtual meetings will become a universally accepted mode of communication in the post-pandemic era.

    As a result, online collaboration software will be seamlessly integrated into daily workflow. Virtual team chats will surge in volume and importance. Many will consider email and traditional conference calls as slow-moving forms of communication

  • Onboarding new employees will start at home.

    Setting up technology at home will become a staple of new employee onboarding to ensure people can work remotely with ease. Companies will support some or all of the costs associated with working remotely. This will include Wi-Fi and other tech expenditures previously shouldered by the employee.
How design & technology will reshape the future workplace section

What workplace design or technology changes are you envisioning for your business? Are you preparing now or waiting to see how the post-pandemic world unfolds? How do you foresee the future of work?


Nabil Sabet is Group Director at M Moser Associates, leading North America.

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