The Future of Workplace Design in a Post-Pandemic World

Before COVID-19 emerged in 2020, most organizations saw their office spaces as essential to workforce productivity and the efficient execution of their business operations. Despite the many undeniable challenges of working remotely during a pandemic, many business leaders were pleasantly surprised to find that employees worked just as (sometimes, even more) productively from home.

With the relaxation of social distancing regulations and the increasing availability of vaccines, organizations find themselves at an important crossroads. Businesses need to decide if it’s better to maintain the status quo by bringing employees fully back to the office, or explore the viability and potential benefits of a hybrid or remote approach.

This decision has significant implications for the allocation of capital, overhead costs, logistics, employee experience, workforce productivity, and workplace design. One thing is clear – organizations that choose to bring employees back to a physical workspace or use a hybrid method will no longer find pre-pandemic approaches to workplace design suitable.

The arrival of the Future of Work has been expedited by COVID-19, and experts predict that there will be significant changes to prepare for in the post-pandemic workplace. Although it’s a turbulent and uncertain time to make lasting decisions and changes, it’s imperative for business leaders to define adaptable post-pandemic design strategies that are tailored to their unique organizations. Without much precedent, nearly everyone finds themselves operating in the dark, lacking any tried and tested method for achieving an effective workplace strategy that supports both business objectives and employee needs in a post-pandemic world.

Even more worrisome is the possibility that arbitrary or misguided workplace strategy decisions may negatively affect both the employee experience and performance or revenues. For instance, this case study shows how a European bank was able to leverage the Humanyze Platform to identify the source of underperformance and higher attrition within certain branches – suboptimal workplace design. With nearly 60% of employees lacking full confidence in their company’s post-pandemic strategy and 65% of employees reportedly looking for a new job, there’s more at stake and more pressure than ever before to get these decisions right.

To help business leaders arrive at workplace design blueprints that are attuned to the needs of their workforce, let’s explore what the future of workplace design looks like in a post-pandemic world.

Tailored, Adaptable Real-Estate Footprints

Forward-thinking companies make intelligent business decisions based on data-driven insights. And it’s no exception when it comes to creating a flexible workplace design.

Despite plan delays due to the pandemic, organizations that have elected to return to the office fully or in some capacity will move away from following arbitrary “one-size-fits-all” trends and increasingly opt for data-driven office designs that cater to the unique needs of their employees.

A Work Environment Survey shows that 71% of employees agree that it’s important for their company’s workplace design to be flexible while 73% of employees believe that having access to flexible furniture arrangements enables them to work better. Knowing such insights can enable business leaders to arrive at adaptable workplace/office design and real estate optimization decisions that place employees’ needs and expectations first.

Workspaces that allow maximum customization and flexibility will be essential in order to create diverse office setups that appeal to the different needs of the returning workforce. While some teams may do their best work in open concept workspaces that are optimal for collaboration or spontaneous interactions, others may benefit most from quieter, distraction-free environments that allow them to focus uninterrupted.

By monitoring workspace utilization and leveraging intelligent insights on employee behaviors, collaboration styles, and preferences, businesses can confidently make the following adaptable workplace/office design decisions

  • Expand or reduce real estate footprint and investments as needed
  • Optimize or repurpose existing spaces
  • Know when and where to plan for new build-outs
  • Allocate spaces for collaborative vs individual use
  • Discover opportunities for renting or subleasing floors or buildings
  • Improve employee or team location assignments based on which groups benefit from being within close physical proximity

Rather than follow arbitrary design trends, companies that use data-driven insights to design the smart, employee-centric workplaces of the future will be miles ahead of competitors in terms of employee experience and productivity.

Emerging Office Technologies

Technology is essential to the continuous evolution of physical workspaces and will play an increasingly important role as business leaders scramble to design a versatile, agile and adaptable workspace. Over time, a number of new technologies will emerge within physical offices to enable the creation of a better employee experience. Some organizations, for example, are installing desk sensors to help them measure occupancy data and make informed decisions about office layouts and capacity needs.

These sensors provide an “always on” approach to space optimization by helping to track live office usage. Companies can log how many seats are in use every day and, most importantly, quantify the success of their workplace design and return to office strategy.

Together with rotating desks/booking technology, desk sensors can help reduce occupancy costs, ensure maximum space utilization (while maintaining social distancing regulations) and seamless adoption/execution of hybrid work schedules through intelligent allocation of desks. Booking technology also helps to improve productivity by allowing employees to reserve and use individual and collaborative areas as needed. This access enables teams to work flexibly and collaborate on a modified schedule without running the risk of overcrowding or overbooked rooms. With the data generated from these kinds of technologies, companies can gain an objective understanding of how teams work, collaborate, and use physical spaces to inform continuous office improvements and ongoing workplace decisions.

Post-Pandemic Resurgence of Communal Workspaces

Although co-working spaces were heavily affected during the pandemic and the resulting aftershocks, the need for agile and adaptable office layouts is driving a resurgence of these communal workspaces.

Many companies are reevaluating their real estate footprints and deciding to downsize after reviewing the cost implication and the relevance of maintaining spaces that may not see much use going forward.

Right now, co-working spaces are becoming the go-to option for businesses that require one or more office locations with flexible layouts. Communal workspaces offer an array of sites for a dispersed workforce and are ideal for businesses that want to restructure and rework their finances. Rather than commit to a long-term lease, organizations can stay agile by opting for a cost-effective and less binding alternative like WeWork or Industrious HQ.

Most co-working spaces also have widespread availability, with WeWork (a global leader in the co-working spaces market) offering over 100 locations in New York City alone.

Workplace Wellness & Mixed-Use Communities

Savvy business leaders are preparing for the post-pandemic world by rethinking the role physical workspaces play in the organization. The pandemic opened up meaningful conversations around work-life balance, burnout, stress, fatigue, unproductive meetings, and so on. As such, organizations are not only creating workspaces that provide flexibility and sustainability, but they are also incorporating design elements that focus on employee wellness, collaborative work, and productivity enablement. Adaptable and customizable offices also create opportunities for HR and business leaders to implement programs that help foster culture, health, and wellness using physical spaces and office amenities. This could involve  creating spaces with more communal break areas, or strategic seating assignments that drive essential collaboration and engagement across all levels of an organization.

As workspaces continue to evolve to a post-pandemic setting, we’ll likely also see an uptick in the number of holistically designed mixed-use communities. These large-scale, commercial, and lifestyle centers will blend office space with residential components. They’ll also include retail, hospitality, and recreational elements. These creative and exciting spaces give access to wellness, health, connectivity, and productivity within a single entity and may very well be the future of the progressive workplace.

Wrapping Up

As we look ahead to the post-pandemic future of the workplace, there is a myriad of workplace design options for organizations across industries and verticals to consider. However, what works for one company may not work for another. Arriving at the best decision for all concerned requires business leaders to balance their company’s objective, purpose, culture, and employee demographic and workforce preferences. Rather than simply following trends or making educated guesses, the future of workplace design will be shaped by data, flexibility, and the employee experience.

Last Updated 15 October 2021