Planning for the Future Workplace and a Distributed Workforce

Article originally from Gensler.com

Editor's note: This post is part of our ongoing exploration of how design is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The lessons learned from the recent collective work-from-home experiment will play a critical role in guiding the journey back to the workplace across the globe. Because of the health crisis, companies are strategically rethinking everything about the office as we once knew it — from the physical space to the protocols, people, and organizational culture that define it.

As we plan for this new normal, workplace resilience will require greater organizational intelligence, multidisciplinary planning, effective change management, and strategic design.

The benefits of working remotely and/or having a more distributed workforce have been known for a while. Improved life/work balance, greater autonomy, reduced commuter traffic and associated CO2 emissions, and a reduced office footprint are a few of those perks.

That said, we now know that the overall effectiveness of virtual collaboration relies on a critical factor: human connection. Our recent work-from-home experiment has shown how important virtual collaboration platforms and management tools can be. But nothing can replace face-to-face time with colleagues. Those interactions build social capital and personal connections that can keep you connected outside of the office.

When we transitioned to working from our homes during the lockdown, we entered a new reality with pre-existing social connections among colleagues. Data from the 2020 Gensler U.S. Work from Home Survey reinforces that the primary reason people want to come back to the office is to interact with other people. So, how can the future workplace balance the benefits of remote work and virtual collaboration with the positive, community-based elements of the office?

Focusing on the purpose of the office is essential.

As designers, we see the role of the office as the catalyst for engagement, inspiration, and human connection, a platform for meetings inspired by hospitality, collaboration, and technology that fosters relationships and exchanges. Before the pandemic, awareness was growing around the concept of the hybrid workplace model which promotes collaboration, advanced technology, unassigned seating, and activity-based design, and offers a comfortable atmosphere driven by elements of hospitality. However, in the past, this model was limited by spatial conditions that required designing for a certain capacity, and this, combined with a focus on space efficiency, resulted in increased densities. We have been reducing the amount of space per person/desk consistently over the past 30 years — but the global health crisis is rapidly changing this trend.

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