Designing offices for the digital workspace

By Josh Lowery

Photos courtesy Makeway

Despite the ongoing debate about remote versus in-office work, the genie cannot be put back into the bottle. The pandemic sparked lasting changes to how and where people work. As a result, companies are rethinking their need for space, asking different questions about how to use the space they have, and seeking guidance on how to build for the future.

Yet, the pandemic is not the only catalyst for transforming new workspaces. The affordability of, access to, and growing reliance on technology are significantly reshaping the offices of tomorrow. This will also transform the education and collaboration needed for planning, designing, and building these spaces.

Those who have a role in designing, building, planning, or influencing these projects need to stay on top of the ever-shifting design landscape. Success in this tumultuous environment may come through adopting a more flexible and collaborative approach that meets the needs of a hybrid workforce.

Planning for a hybrid workforce

The advent of a “hybrid-first” office space is probably the most far-reaching transformation to consider when thinking about the future of offices.

Research shows employees overwhelmingly prefer a blended work model. A 2021 Prudential Pulse of the American Worker Survey1 showed 87 percent of respondents want to work from home at least one day of the week, and 68 percent of North American workers say the ability to work remotely and on-site is the perfect work model.

When it comes to building new or retrofitting current office spaces, it is helpful to start with the layout. Rather than the traditional cube layout or a series of closed-door offices, many organizations are exploring a greater variety of spaces and styles. Many businesses opt for smaller, private pods which individuals can use for calls or quiet thinking spaces, along with movable desks and common working areas. Some companies are modeling this more flexible layout after co-working spaces. They offer their employees access to different types of spaces that better fit the different ways people work. For planners and architects, this means thinking about space in terms of zones.

Hot-desking is another trend shaping a hybrid-first design approach. Like a more traditional co-working space, employers give their employees the opportunity to secure a desk, office, or room for the days they are in the office.

It is helpful to remember the move to a hybrid work model is about embracing trade-offs. While employees desire the flexibility of hybrid, it is not realistic for a business to have spaces that are only being used 30–50 percent of the time.
Hot-desking and flexible seating are an important part of maximizing shared or rotating space.

Conference rooms take center stage

Another important consideration of the “hybrid-first” office model will be conference rooms. Going forward, it is more likely for at least one person to join a meeting remotely.

As a result, organizations must think differently about how they design, build, and equip these spaces. Lighting takes on a new importance when considering its relationship with cameras and screens. Conference room acoustics are also playing a bigger role in how professionals plan these spaces. Soundproofing and speaker installations will become standard, along with decisions about flooring, which could impact sound quality.

Likewise, high-quality video and audio capabilities should be discussed at the onset of the project. More electronic connectivity also means more cables and outlets because everyone needs to charge their devices.

For some hybrid-first businesses, it may be worth asking whether a board room or multiple conference rooms are even necessary. Between the ease and popularity of renting space and the addition of Zoom rooms, companies may start re-evaluating large meeting rooms. Some developers have also started introducing common spaces that are shared among tenants. This is becoming increasingly common with training centers and board rooms.

 Creating a Digital Concierge

There is also a more personal aspect to the future office workspace in form of the Digital Concierge.

The Digital Concierge is the central hub for the hybrid office. Employees can scan their badge or a QR code to select or reserve their temporary workspace, get a list of meetings, or access a smart locker. Many companies are also trying to blend more culture-building and information sharing into these spaces.

The introduction of the Digital Concierge is a great example of where the hybrid work model meets advancements in technology. Creating the office of the future means replacing outdated technology with new tools that better serve a rapidly changing workforce.

Takeda, a leading pharmaceutical company, for example, has created a virtual show and tell, where employees can virtually share something about themselves, their work, or their hobbies with their teammates. Employees can also scan the project to get details or be linked to a microsite to learn more.

For developers and planners, the goal is to rethink the lobby or welcome center with digital aspects in mind. It is no longer about the physical waiting space, rather, it is about what designers can do with this space to engage people with the brand on and offline.

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