Back when we originally wrote this article in 2019, we honed in on office design trends that boosted employees’ wellbeing and productivity.
Inspired by the new world of work movement, we stressed the fact that companies can’t afford to leave either of these up to chance if they want to foster a culture of happiness. And that’s been backed by science.
Now in 2020, employee well-being and productivity still remain important. But our office design trend predictions for this year have changed immensely.
In the COVID-19 era, keeping employees safe from health risks is the top priority when it comes to office design.
“What all companies will be sure to have in common post-COVID-19 is a renewed focus on creating spaces that are safe, healthy, and embrace wellness principles and practices.” - HOK design firm, March 2020
What are the top office design trends in 2020?
We wanted to better understand how the layout of the workplace - and technologies within it - are transforming due to the pandemic.
While the overarching theme of today's office design trends is safety, many also strive to simultaneously boost employee wellbeing and happiness.
So we looked to Kay Sargent, Senior Principal - Director of Workplace HOK and leading workplace strategy expert, and her team for advice and inspiration.
Here are the top office design trends we’re expecting to emerge in the months to come.
1. Remote work is here to stay...but so is the office.
Remote working undoubtedly became essential to business continuity during the COVID-19 health crisis. Now that many businesses have opened back up, having the flexibility to work from home (or from anywhere) seems to be a continued preference.
Indeed, remote working can boost productivity and recruitment while cutting company costs. But as some organizations realize they need to better adapt to remote working, Sargent and the HOK team stress that “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”
Just because your organization may have full-time remote working capabilities at your fingertips, doesn’t mean you’re ready to completely say goodbye to office life. You’ll need to evaluate whether it makes sense when it comes to factors like corporate culture, demographics, employee work styles, and more.
It will become important to allow workers to find the right balance: some may prefer to come into the office only a few days a week.
The winning solution seems to be having that flexibility to skip the commute, as well as the opportunity to work face-to-face with colleagues. This helps with work-life balance and overall employee happiness.
Regardless of how this balance is determined, work environment sociologist Tracy Brower recently wrote in Forbes that “the office is here to stay”: working in an office strengthens humanity and innovation, purpose, energy, wellbeing, talent, culture, and beyond.
2. Strict sanitation procedures embedded in office design.
It will also be key to make other adjustments to help with office sanitation, such as assigning lockers, file drawers, or cabinets to individuals. Trash cans should be placed in communal areas (versus at individual desks) to consolidate sanitation.
3. Unassigned seats with shielding and boundaries in the modern office.
The need to collaborate effectively within teams and across departments inspires new forms of meeting spaces in offices.
That led to the pre-COVID-19 trend called ‘hot desking,’ which does away with the traditional personal working space, and instead makes employees choose where to sit every day on a first-come-first-served basis. Hot desking disrupts old-fashioned office designs by including different co-working zones such as think spaces.
Brainstorming at LinkedIn Offices in New York. Photo: Eric Laignel.
The good news: the ability for workers to sit wherever they want want (and therefore, better collaborate) isn't going anywhere.
While assigned seating and keeping to one's own space would seem to be a sanitary option, HOK indicates that offices with assigned seats usually have desks "proven to be dirtier than many toilets." Thats because cleaners are often told not to touch objects on people’s desks. In offices with unassigned seats, desks can be deep cleaned each night and are therefore more sanitary.
Modern office design will also need to include more boundaries or barriers like curtains, walls, or shields so that employees can choose seats that allow them to distance themselves from others. Seats will also need to be placed so that colleagues don’t need to directly face one another.
We will also see more voice activation or VOIP communication tools, artificial intelligence, and other hands-free controls used in throughout the office.
“Artificial intelligence and ambient technology offer solutions for making workspaces healthier and people more productive.” - Kay Sargent, Senior Principal - Director of Workplace, HOK
5. Smart materials and nature-focused office design to boost air quality and circulation.
“We must prioritize [smart] materials that are easy to maintain, resist mold, and promote good indoor air quality,” writes HOK’s Brad Liebman. Materials that are antimicrobial, like copper, can also be used.
In addition, says Liebman, offices will need to ventilate better with outdoor air “dilute airborne contaminants and lower transmission opportunities.” HVAC systems should also be updated to improve air circulation and filtration.
Offices are also going green as nature-inspired workplace designers are bringing elements of the outdoors inside. Biophilic design aims for visual connectivity between humans and nature.
Hortonworks Offices in Budapest. Photo: Bálint Jaksa Photography.
As employees spend most of their working time indoors (especially during the global pandemic), these connections are often lost. Office plants such as Living Walls also help to improve air quality and lead to a healthier quality of life for employees.
The future of office design is safer (and technology-filled)
Even among an increasingly remote workforce, companies are welcoming new office design developments and technologies to boost workplace safety, productivity, and overall well-being.
And as we continue to combat a global pandemic and its aftermath, we can look toward a brighter future filled with disruptive office design innovations that help employees better meet health and work-life balance requirements.
Or, as HOK puts it, we’ll be “designing spaces that bring us together while keeping us apart.”