Three Lessons 2020 Taught us about the Future Workplace

After lengthy periods of mandatory working from home, 2020 has forced businesses around the world to rethink the function of their workplace.

For some, working from home is the positive change needed; no commute, more family time, lunch and travel expense saved, productivity increase, and work-life balance restored. For others, working from home comes with its challenges; more distractions, feelings of loneliness, isolation, and an inability to unplug as the lines between work and home life blur.

Whichever side of the fence you stand, the way we view flexible working, and the function of the office has shifted unquestionably.

The Office Works for us now

In the last decade, commercial office leases have become shorter and shorter as businesses adapt to the rise in digital and a more flexible millennial workforce. A recent report by JLL suggests by 2030 30% of all office space will be consumed flexibly. Flexible space is here to stay and has given power back to the occupier. Now we question what the office can do for us. How it can improve our experience? Increase our productivity? As people, we have become centred. The office works for us now.

Three Lessons for the Future Workplace:

Diving in, the three lessons 2020 has taught us about the future workplace:

1. Hybrid model

In the UK, the proportion of people regularly choosing to work from home is expected to double from 18% to 37% post-pandemic. Which means businesses are preparing long-term workplace strategies to include both onsite and home working.

To accommodate for varying working styles, the future workplace will evolve into an ecosystem of small work hubs, rather than a central mothership. Located across suburban areas and the city, these smaller hubs will cater to the growing population of home workers and provide additional floor space for offices becoming less densely populated due to social distancing requirements.

More flexible office models will give people autonomy to fit work around their life and still be trusted to deliver. Presenteeism –sitting at a desk purely to be considered working– is eradicated and stronger relationships based on trust will develop between businesses and their people.

The hybrid model does come with its challenges; businesses need to develop a structure where people can carry out individual tasks and still join in with more collaborative teamwork. If differences are not accommodated, companies will start to see pockets of ‘in-groups’ form while others sit on the peripheral. Wider socioeconomic consequences also need to be considered like the divide between those who can work comfortably from home, those who can’t, and those who can afford to travel around multiple hubs/workspaces.

2. Happiness is a destination.

A recent survey from Locatee found 7% of respondents want to return to the office full time. While only 57% of respondents believe their standard of work is equal to or higher than it was when based in an office. These figures indicate how people want to work and the reality of it has not caught up yet. To close this chasm, the future workplace will offer more than the average home; it will be a destination where people want to be, where unique styles are catered for, and options are limitless.

We’ve seen this develop in private student accommodation, build to rent and the hospitality sector. Venues win customers by providing spaces with the latest facilities and bespoke design. To compete on this scale, the base offering for workplaces will include productivity areas, wellness studios, collaboration stations, and sleep pods.
No destination is complete without its community. Future workplace design will see vertical buildings with 50 floors replaced with spread-out campuses, prioritising open areas for impromptu meetings and chance interactions. Plant walls, neon lights and curved sofas won’t cut it, workplace design must embody brand, cultivate culture and encourage human interaction.

3. Digitally Sound

With Zoom stocks up 130% this year, technology has never been more relevant. The rapid growth of video conferencing and the globalisation of the workforce has placed extra importance on technology and connectivity in the workplace, but this is deeper than internet speed.

When designing and building the future workplace, smart technology will have to become an intrinsic part of the process. Smart tech relies on strategically placed sensors and processors which collect data and result in environmental, efficiency, financial and wellness benefits.

Sensor technology provides a seamless occupier experience by enhancing a person’s day to day. Personalised apps manage meetings, desk space and parking bookings. Environmental sensors adjust the lighting and temperature for optimum comfort while motion sensors allow occupiers to move through the building touch-free. And the eco-benefits of smart tech mean zero-energy buildings will eventually become a minimum requirement.

“All great changes are preceded by chaos.”

As fit out specialists, we look forward to seeing how the London office market adapts to the changes ahead. Collectively we must understand how valuable face-to-face interactions are for the bottom line. Or chance interactions by the tea point, impromptu team meetings, group lunch breaks, and spontaneous after-work drinks. At Copper Projects we believe they are irreplaceable.

Hybrid working models, amenity-rich offices and tech smart buildings are fantastic starting points, but overall employers, landlords, architects, designers, construction, and the property industry have a duty of care to the individuals using their buildings. We must ensure occupier safety and build to protect from future risk.