July 22, 2020

4 Design Trends of a Post-COVID Workplace

Since COVID-19 became part of our everyday vernacular, the ThinkLab team has been working behind the scenes to track the metrics of how the virus is affecting the interiors industry. And while our data indicates that we are still struggling through the economic effects of the pandemic, we continue to celebrate the optimism and resiliency of the design industry as it moves forward by helping clients imagine positive change.

To contextualize some of these uplifting actions, we sat down with leading experts from both the manufacturing and design communities to get a better understanding of what our world will look like as we begin to transition back to the office. Here are the insights they shared. 

The future of office design will include flexible arrangements that enable both short term reconfiguration, as well as long-term reorganization as phases of COVID-19 shift. Photography courtesy of Branch Furniture.

New positions will emerge to help navigate our revised normal.

With remote work becoming the new norm, many professionals in the interiors industry have raised a red flag, signaling the importance of one key missing element in the design process—collaboration. Video calls and e-doc-sharing services can take you only so far, and eventually, when it’s safe, we will need to come together to collaborate. Yet at the same time, many in the industry also acknowledge the benefits of remote work—providing uninterrupted time for heads-down tasks, saved time from commute, and better work-life balance, among others.

As such, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the post-COVID workplace will include a hybrid of remote and in-person work—in a much more intentional way than ever before. To keep the synergy between the two groups, Ann Hoffman, Director of Workplace Strategies at Francis Cauffman Architects, suggests that many companies will employ a community manager. She explains: “A community manager in the workplace should function as the connective tissue for the employees to interact with each other: remote or on-site. The position should function as a service-focused role that brings groups together with the best possible tools. While acting as the ambassador for the company brand and the culture, the community manager can monitor trends and requests and implement services on the fly to enrich the connections.” 

We will see a reinvention of the individual workspace.

At the beginning of 2020, many boldly predicted the death of the individual cubicle as the need for collaboration led the way to a hybrid of open concept and hoteling, or free address seating. In the post-COVID world, we see the personalized seating model revert in some ways, with a handful of collaboration-savvy modifications.

As Steve Delfino Vice President, Corporate Marketing & Product Management at Teknion, explains it, “the lines between work modes blurred in response to the open plan, creating little distinction between personal focus space and collaborative and social areas. This will certainly change following the pandemic. Social spaces will continue operating as a destination for respite and relaxation. However, the boundaries between personal and shared space will again become more distinct. The workstation will be more focused and a bit more private with a greater focus on user control and comfort. Higher partitions and clever space division utilizing flexible products will increase a user’s feelings of well-being, which is just as important as the physical cleaning of the environments we will occupy.

Modular furnishings enable users to collaborate while creating a socially distant space. Photography courtesy of Emblem.

Collaboration spaces will be more valuable than ever before.

But not too fast. As Jeffrey Braun, furniture designer and creative director of Emblem reminds us, “the knee-jerk reaction is to increase individual workspaces and isolate employees in the office, but the real driver for people to return to the office is so that people can interact, collaborate, see, and talk to other people. The truth is, if people are at the office less and working from home more, then the time they are spending in the office becomes more important. So, while the traditional cubical or assigned desk will never truly go away, time in the office should be spent on collaboration and our designs for these spaces should follow suit.”

Workplace amenities may simplify.

A hot trend for 2020 was extravagant amenities. We saw workplace wellness programs offering sunrise yoga classes and posh office kitchens serving up chai tea and made-to-order lattes. Yet in many ways, these communal gatherings may shift as we rethink their sanitary protocols.

Explaining it perfectly, Julia Belkin, principal, HLW, says: “Prepackaged consumables will certainly increase in popularity in response to ongoing health concerns. Grab n’ go, which was already gaining popularity among millennials due to its inherent convenience, was being discussed with many organizations even before the pandemic and will likely be a growing, long-term trend. For larger companies that traditionally offered a food buffet within their workplaces, they may now simply give their staff boxed meals on-site. These could be generic or customized depending on cost tolerance and logistics of pickup.”

At the end of the day, the key to success will be our ability to adapt and roll with the punches. In keeping with that tone, Diana Pisone, team principal in the Chicago office at Ted Moudis Associates, leaves us with this: “The pendulum typically swings from one extreme to the other. Similar to 9/11, when we realized that we had been taking our safety for granted, our security protocols became overly stringent. Eventually we swayed back to a middle ground with many newly developed best practices, which are still in place today. The same will go with this pandemic and our socialization habits. We have overlooked our societal health, this current state will bring about temporary rigorous constraints, and eventually there will be best practices that surface and will stay in place for years to come, which too will be more middle of the road.”


This article originally was published in Bellow Press and was reposted here with permissions.

Amanda Schneider is President of ThinkLab, the research division of SANDOW. At ThinkLab, we combine SANDOW Media’s incredible reach to the architecture and design community through brands like Interior Design Media, Metropolis, and Material Bank with proven market research techniques to uncover relevant trends and opportunities for the design industry. Join in to explore what’s next at thinklab.design/join-in. 

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