Post-Pandemic Workplace Design

There’s no doubt that the pandemic has completely transformed the way in which we work. It has acted as a catalyst to the steady increase in popularity for the work from home lifestyle, and will put a sudden end to the trend of open offices and hot desking. For many employers now, mental and physical health will become an important company value and therefore a key part of spatial design. Workplaces will need to be designed with hygiene in mind in order to create spaces in which workers can feel comfortable, safe and productive. 


Work From Home vs Shared Office

Lockdown has left us all craving more social experiences, with a lot of people desperate for a return to the traditional workplace environment. However, now that a lot of us have had a taste of the work from home lifestyle, some are keen to hold onto their new found freedom. 

It has been suggested now that in the future we will not see employers abandoning their headquarters, nor a complete switch to WFH, but instead more freedom and flexibility to choose where we work. During a recent Frame Live talk on the future of workplace design, Robert Thiemann suggested, “we will visit the office for meetings and team get-togethers, but the actual work will be done more and more from home”. As worker flexibility increases, the office space that employees visit must be flexible too. In order to make the same office spaces accommodate a socially distanced staff, the space itself will need to be adaptable and able to change day to day, whilst still maintaining a sufficient level of hygiene and safety. 

So as we enter a WFH revolution, what does the new home office look like? Well, a big issue for people working from home is distinguishing the difference between work mode and home mode. Creating this distinction will be harder in smaller homes and spaces where one room multi-functions as a work space and something else. One innovative solution to this problem is the Studypod created by Livit. Designed to be placed in the garden, it provides an instant space to focus that is separated from home life and surrounded by nature. 


But if we do return to our previous work routine, the shared office will likely be transformed too. In the mid to long-term future, how often and where we meet will change, and new layouts will have to be created in open offices to ensure that employers remain safe and comfortable in their working environments. We may also see methods to reduce workplace density such as working in shifts or waves that challenge the traditional 9 to 5 routine. 

Spatial Division & the Return of the Cubicle

The new shared office will need to feature new rules and layouts, with distanced work stations, alternated seating, screens and room dividers, and disinfection stations. Some offices may also consider a return to a layout reminiscent of the 60s office cubicles. Originally designed by Robert Propst and marketed by Hermann Miller, Action Office was initially designed to be a modular system to give workers freedom, but became a small cell-like piece of furniture that we now know as ‘the cubicle’.

We may see more designs edge towards this style as offices attempt to divide up the once popular open offices, with examples of more long-term solutions being the Hack table system designed by Konstantin Grcic. This system boasts a flexible design that can be dismantled, stored and transported at a moment’s notice. 


There is however the fear that employers will end up creating a clinical and isolated environment similar to those that followed the creation of Action Office. As Propst said in 1998, “the dark side of this is that not all organisations are intelligent and progressive...lots are run by crass people who can take the same kind of equipment and create hellholes”. 

A softer approach to the spatial division may include the use of curtains to make small areas that can be quickly and easily opened and closed, as demonstrated by Dekleva Gregoric Arhitekti below. Or simply free standing partitions that can be easily moved, like the Dancing Wall range by Vitra.


Architecture and interiors will likely become more open and spacious, and we may see more plant life and open air, green spaces in the workplace. One proposed project that encapsulates this idea is NextWorkplace by West of West, a vision of what the workplace of the future will look like - “by creating an environment different from what employees experience at home the workplace is transformed into a destination, a resilient collage of flexible spaces that can be used in new ways both now and in the future” (West of West, 2020). They’ve proposed a minimalist, open, light filled, plant filled office environment that functions as a space for meetings and group collaboration, while individual work is conducted at home.


Zero-Touch vs Tactile Surfaces

As our interest in hygiene grows, we are seeing designers creating a zero-touch, phygital world as we speak. From self-opening doors and voice activation to contactless payment and collection only retail, our touchpoints are being streamlined to ensure we keep eachother safe. We now expect clean, open and decluttered spaces, and a theatre of cleanliness, but these sterile spaces are left feeling clinical and we are missing those tactile and soft materials and surfaces. 

This will have a big impact on interior designers and furniture designers as materiality becomes a big focal point. The aim will be to utilise warm and soft textures that are also wipeable and durable in order to withstand the increased cleaning and maintenance that they will endure. Whilst some practical materials such as HPL and melamine may seem a little rigid and clinical, there are alternatives that have a little more texture and warmth, whilst still maintaining their hygienic qualities, such as wood, faux leathers and self-disinfecting metals such as copper and brass.

We will likely see a lot of development and innovation to create new sanitary materials that maintain a visual of warmth and texture. One example of this is the Active range of antibacterial tiles by Fiandre, which utilise photocatalytic properties to create a ‘self-cleaning’ surface. 


This crisis has fast-forwarded progress within workplace design, and the design community has already created some really interesting suggestions as to the direction in which we’ll move forward. There’s no doubt that the way we work and where we choose to work has been changed forever. 

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