What It Takes to Design the Workplace of the Future

Long before Covid-19 and the disruption it brought our way, the debate on the concept of work had already gathered a momentum of its own. The traditional workplace as we know it is undergoing transformation ushering in a futuristic concept of ‘workday’ that threatens to upend the physical space we call an office.

In a recent survey by Gartner, Inc., 82% of company leaders drawn from HR to Finance and Real Estate revealed that they would allow their employees to work remote part-time. But that begs the question: how will this shape the future workplace?
Will there be a need to redesign the workplace to incorporate emerging employee welfare demands and hygiene provisions? Will offices shift into apartments giving employees a live, work and, play combo all under one roof? Well, it remains to be seen.

Human-Centric Workplaces
Picture the future workplace as an environment where you don’t have to be at your ‘desk’ for you to be considered productive. The future-facing office design will require designers and architects to reimagine how they will inspire the diverse, multigeneration, and agile workers of the late 21st century.

Instead of the open-plan office trends, activity-based spaces are gradually gaining prominence. These workplaces are human-centric, pack a whole lot of technology-driven features and are designed to inspire a higher level of learning and productivity.

What Forces Will Shape the Future of Workspaces
Digital native workers are increasingly finding themselves working alongside older generations. With the current office designs, this may create friction in relationships and task coordination. The clamour for employee wellbeing and increased concentration calls for a rethinking of workplace designs. Here are a couple of factors to look at.

Worker optimisation
Employee expectations are shifting toward mental, physical, and emotional wellness. Future workplaces will have to be designed to support healthy living such as having good air quality, optimised lighting that syncs with human biorhythms, and ample space for workouts and rest.

Greater collaboration and lifelong learning
Thanks to improved lifestyles and self-awareness, workers of the future will stay longer in employment. On the other hand, young and agile workers will join the workforce at a faster rate than previously witnessed. For these two groups to co-exist and learn from each other, the design of the future workplace must promote learning exchanges through collaboration, mentoring and upskilling. This can be attained through innovative workstations and dedicated educational spaces that stimulate and promote cross-generational engagement.

Enhanced focus
Digital distraction is quickly graduating into an epidemic of some sort. Workers productive time is spent in non-priority areas such as answering non-urgent emails and social media conversations. A detailed study of shared workplaces revealed a positive correlation between vast open-plan offices and an increase in distraction and negative worker relationships.
Designers and architects must rethink on how to incorporate technology, interior design, and sensory elements into workspaces to transform their ambience. This will have a positive effect on employee focus, emotions, and productivity.

Future Workplace Archetypes
Having seen the driving forces and expectations of the future workspaces, the ball is now in the court of designers, surveyors, and architects. Here are some future workplace design inspirations that are likely to dominate architectural creativity.

Responsive Workspaces
While global pandemics such as Covid-19 have awakened the need for hygiene and healthy environments, workplaces need to go beyond handwashing and social distancing.

Think of worker-centred spaces that monitor employee health through real-time blood sugar checks and constant monitoring of their cardiac health. Such an intuitive environment will not only optimise worker performance but also enhance their focus. When workers feel healthier and cared for, their productivity almost always increases.

In a bid to offer holistic support for workers, future workplaces will have to be designed with sensors that interface with employee wearables and smart devices. Instead of checking in at reception desks, employees will have boarding cards that pop up from their smart devices which automatically give them access into buildings.

Workstations will have to be responsive enough to incorporate and adjust lighting, humidity, and temperature based on employee preferences. Designs such as linked rooms that allow workers to move freely from work zones and sound-proofed chambers to convivial and explorative spaces will feature prominently.

For mind and body development, architects will have to factor in spaces such as soothing pods and exercise rooms. When it comes to gender proactiveness, future workplace designs will need facilities such as crèches and scooter parking lots for kids.

One-Stop Urban Destinations
The concept of ‘live, work, and play’ is particularly attractive to digital natives. The desire for hospitable workspaces will require designers and architects to think of mixed-use floors with galleries and wellness centres where employees can work, socialise, and even sleep.

Spaces such as kitchens will not just be food preparation centres rather critical points where workers integrate and inspire each other. Flexible work environments with on-site facilities such as salons, restaurants, gym, cycle stores among other features will help foster employee wellbeing.
With the growing number of single-person households in the UK, home life may become some sort of solitary confinement for workers. This calls for an increase in the adoption of hospitality workplaces to boost employees’ welfare.

Collaborative workspace designs will be hugely important for social support. Having a ‘live, work, and play space’ makes workers feel part of the community and this goes a long way in pushing the productivity needle.

Instead of being a building full of desks, the future workplace will be a destination for like-minded people looking to achieve great things together. This will be the core of the workspace design.

Cross-generational Workspaces
The workplace of the future will be occupied by what we now know as the 5G workforce. These are the digital natives, the inventive generation, the socially conscious millennials, and a good share of baby boomers.

This workforce will prioritise knowledge-sharing and mentorship which must be supported by an enabling environment. Architects will have to build in features such as mentor pods, for collaboration between younger and older workers. Similarly, mobile interior design elements will encourage both play and experimentation.

To boost alertness and concentration design elements such as circadian lighting may have to be incorporated. Technologically enabled workstations fitted with virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) systems will be critical in enhancing fast and effective knowledge exchange.

Bottom line
Future workplaces will have to be designed with workforce optimisation, human- centrism, and a sense of community in mind. Incorporation of features such as daylight provisions, automated systems, use of natural materials, building of meditation stations, and collaboration spaces will be more of a necessity than an accessory.

Designers and architects must factor in the ageing but agile workforce and how best to create spaces that foster intergenerational working relationships. Whereas remote working will shape the future workplace, it is the provision of communal all-in-one working environments that will truly inspire productivity.


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