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The future workplace in theory and motion

What was once a disruption is now an opportunity for new, nimble, adaptable approaches to workplace design.

The future workplace in theory and motion

There are some moments of disruption so profound, society cannot simply pick up the same tools and go back to how it was before. For many employees, working from home during the pandemic has brought new balance and valued flexibility. Meanwhile, for managers and CEOs new perspectives have arisen on the costs and benefits of their commercial tenancies.

What was once a disruption is now becoming an opportunity for new, nimble, adaptable approaches to the workplace. A workplace in which wellbeing has been elevated from a premium extra to a foundation for building collaborative, connective workplace cultures which facilitate serendipitous encounters.

To demonstrate how this research can come to life, Schiavello have revealed a series of modern workplace scenarios and animated product demonstrations, exploring how malleable design can enable these new and emerging behaviours seamlessly. View Schiavello’s full Purposeful Workplace experience.

The experience of space

WSP in its analysis of the future workplace (How Will Covid-19 Change Demand For Office Space?), suggests the office is becoming an anchor point, rather than the sole site where tasks are achieved. Businesses in the knowledge economy will still need people to collaborate, engage face-to-face and benefit from the “serendipity” effect of chance encounters and casual conversations in the workplace. But as flexible working becomes universal, the workplace will need to become more attractive and engaging for workers contemplating a hybrid working week. This highlights the importance of a space’s dimensions, quality of lighting, furnishings, acoustics, views and air quality.

Home, hotelising and hot desking

Whether space is scaled down in size or decentralised to multiple, smaller tenancies, flexibility, amenity and sociability are crucial. The KPMG Future of Work after COVID-19 research (authored by Susan Lund, 18 February 2021) identified some major trends including flexibility becoming key in commercial workspaces; data and technology being provided as core services; and physical offices evolving into collaboration hubs.

Before the pandemic, workplace design for premium spaces had already emphasised the importance of spatial planning and fit-out designs that encourage staff to shift location and setting depending on the task or personal preference.

This new emerging style is focused on the experience of the person. It combines elements of the comforts and security of home with adaptable spaces that suit multiple work types.

Workplace design experts are calling it the “hotelising” of the workplace. Not only does the fit-out and design reflect the comforts and aesthetic of a hotel, staff who work in the office for part of their week can book a workstation, desk or meeting room.

Virtual space meets tangible place

Agile organisational innovations are supported by an enhanced digital domain that equips the workplace with smart elements including apps that enable personal interaction with the space, such as making room bookings, personal locker security and accessing concierge services.

From a management perspective, the smart workplace platforms can also enable insight into when spaces are being used, and how often. This creates the possibility of fine-tuning the location of activity-based hubs and associated furnishings and informs a more refined and evidence-based approach to spatial planning.

This suggests, too, that fixed partitioning, fixed workstations and conventional office fixtures will need to be superseded by mobile, flexible and adaptable furnishings. This will allow spaces to change in response to how they are being used, enhancing the ability of the workplace to fit the workers and their activities.

From a safety perspective, the app-enabled approaches can also ensure there is situational awareness of who is working where in the office, which is an essential part of the ongoing outbreak management scenario. In addition, to reduce the risk of contagion spreading between colleagues, having the ability to manipulate spaces and furnishings to support appropriate distancing is also important.

Function meets form

Research by McKinsey into the future workplace has identified that while around one quarter of those employed in advanced economies can work from home for most of the week, there are some specific activities best suited to a workplace. These include interactions involving a high degree of sensitivity or interpersonal engagement such as negotiations, onboarding new employees, collective decision-making on critical matters and brainstorming. The emphasis is on creating a workplace that functions as a “culture space”, according to Anne-Laure Fayard, John Weeks, and Mahwesh Khan. In a recent article in the Harvard Business Review they highlighted findings from psychology and neuroscience that show human cognition is affected by the environment in which information is being received – (Designing the Hybrid Office, From workplace to “culture space”, by Anne-Laure Fayard, John Weeks, and Mahwesh Khan: Harvard Business Review Magazine, March–April 2021).

In other words, the quality of a workplace has a direct impact on how well people think, how they process information and how they perform in their roles.

Working from home may have been isolated, but many workers found they performed better and benefited from improved concentration and reduced stress because their home was a more comfortable and pleasant environment than the office. The priority for the future workplace, the authors suggest, is to provide the “human moments” that engage staff and make the workplace fulfilling. Through technology and applied ergonomics, including acoustic strategies to support specific activities, the office becomes a “culture space”.

Register here to explore Schiavello’s full interactive demonstration: The Purposeful Workplace.



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