How Remote Work Will Change Office Design

Remote work has been on the rise for the past couple of years, but current events have obviously accelerated the shift. Many companies around the world are rising to the occasion, acting swiftly to safeguard employees and migrate to a new way of working that even the most extreme business-continuity plans hadn’t envisioned. There are many lessons to be learned from this large-scale work-from-home experiment. Perhaps it’s time to reimagine how work is done – and what role offices should play – in creative and bold ways! But what might this look like?

What Does the Workplace of the Future Look Like?

The answer, different for every organization, will be based on what talent is needed, which roles are most important, how much collaboration is necessary for excellence, and where offices are currently located. But that’s just the start. Even within an organization, the answer could look different across geographies, businesses, and functions, so the exercise of determining what will be needed in the future must be a team sport. Ultimately, the current sentiment is that office spaces will be resized and restructured to maximize adaptability for staff and to support the priorities of the organization.

Redesigning to Support Organizational Priorities

When you think about a typical office, what image comes to mind? Likely, you imagine a mixture of private offices and cubicles, with meeting rooms and some shared amenities. This is the case for most offices; few have been intentionally designed to support specific organizational priorities.

As more employees begin working from home, it’s only rational that we begin redesigning workspaces to support the kinds of interactions that cannot happen remotely. If the primary purpose of an organization’s space is to accommodate specific moments of collaboration rather than individual work, for example, should 80 percent of the office be devoted to collaboration rooms? Should organizations ask all employees who work in cubicles, and rarely have to attend group meetings, to work from home? If office space is needed only for those who cannot do so, are working spaces close to where employees live a better solution? There is no clear blanket solution here, but these questions really get us thinking.

Creatively Resizing the Footprint

How much space do we actually need? That’s one of the biggest questions raised throughout this large-scale experiment. To answer it, we think companies should considering adopting an entirely new paradigm altogether. Rather than viewing your space purely from an employee capacity standpoint, start looking at your space in terms of how it fosters desired outcomes for collaboration, productivity, culture, and the work experience. That kind of approach will also involve questioning where offices should be located. Some companies will continue to have them in big cities, which many regard as essential to attract young talent and create a sense of connection and energy. Others may abandon big-city headquarters for suburban campuses.

In any case, this looming architectural rebirth will call on a variety of spaces: owned spaces, leased spaces, flexible leases, flex space, co-working spaces, and remote work. Prior to the pandemic, flexible space solutions held about 3 percent of the US office market. Their share had been growing at 25 percent annually for the past five years, so flexibility was already in the works. Many are speculating that the percentage of time worked in main and satellite offices will decline by 12 and 9 percent, respectively, while flex office space will hold approximately constant and work from home will increase to 27 percent of work time, up from 20 percent.

What are your thoughts on the future of office design? Let us know!