As designers, we are constantly exploring possible futures with our clients, modeling provocative scenarios that envision what the ever‐evolving future of the workplace might be. This recent work‐fromhome (WFH) experience has shown businesses that many people, if afforded optimal conditions, canbetter manage their “focus work” at home. At the same time, virtual collaboration tools have allowed richer connections and team building among remote team members. The focus work, which is typically around 50 per cent of most people’s time, can be performed more effectively at home for many employees, away from the office environment.
However at our Los Angeles studio at Perkins and Will, our research and discussions with clients tell us that the human need to be together is as essential as ever for fortifying workplace community, social relationships, and a company’s mission and culture. This raises a lot of questions about what the workplace could and should look like in 2021, 2022 and beyond. In a future de‐densified, post‐COVID‐19 world, does the traditional one‐workstation‐per‐person ratio still make sense? Shouldn’t we instead design physical places for meeting, collaborating, and socialising? To best reinforce a company’s mission, how can we give employees the tools and environments they need to be effective at home or in the office?
The LA Studio of Perkins and Will have re-conceptualized the traditional office into a modular space … think demountable wall spaces, every piece of furniture on wheels, mobile writing surfaces, etc. that can be converted daily – even hourly – into a variety of temporary meeting spaces that you can book out via an app.
Will a fluid work environment become the new normal?
We may see a new hybrid model emerge that encourages a fluid work environment, supporting individual workstyles with choice and autonomy, and allowing employees to decide whether they want to work from home, off‐site, or connect with coworkers in a Meeting Space. The work experience physically and virtually co‐exist, so teams could continue to innovate on both platforms. Regardless of new hygiene protocols, de‐densifying, and more seamlessly integrated telepresence platforms, the one essential component is creating places to engage with each other that provide meaning to the workplace and the energy needed to thrive and do impactful work. In the office, this will be facilitated by Meeting Spaces and Host Stands.
When designed well, the physical workplace promotes connections among all coworkers, whether they are chatting at the coffee machine, exchanging ideas at a meeting room whiteboard, or video calling a colleague working remotely. For years, designers have talked about the “third space” or additional (nonwork or home) choice, such as a co‐working environment or coffee shop. Is it time for the traditional office to become that third space?
Meeting Spaces: When the office becomes a destination
This model asks the traditional office to relinquish its function as a provider of private workstations and instead lean into its role of a “Meeting Space”— one designed to support collaboration and connection. The Meeting Space would achieve true mobility by creating a highly flexible and fluid environment. The space would accommodate a demountable wall system combined with furniture on wheels, mobile writable surfaces, and endless seamless hands‐free technology. This would create the infrastructure that allows employees to weekly—even daily—make a variety of temporary spaces, from several relatively intimate (at least as intimate as COVID‐19 allows) four‐person small team collaboration spaces to meeting spaces that can hold a large number of widely‐spaced people. The use of the space could be handled and scheduled through a corporate app, and the “rooms” would be equipped with a mobile hospitality cart stocked with individually wrapped snacks and drinks, allowing employees to focus on doing their best work.
Meena Krenek is principal and interior design director at the Los Angeles studio of Perkins and Will
Host Stands emulate a company’s culture
A fixed “Host Stand” at the entry of the office space could further preserve the welcoming company culture, featuring a digital screen displaying ongoing work, upcoming events, and company data—all branded and tied to the company’s mission. The Host Stand would also include touch‐free coffee and water dispensers, at least two widely spaced sinks to promote handwashing, and a long counter around which comfortably distanced co‐workers could gather.
Our collective WFH experience has been a forced experiment for all of us, giving us insight into what we need to work most effectively. And we’ve learned that despite new protocols for hygiene and physical distancing, and the availability of ever‐improving technology to connect us, one thing has not changed: the need for places where people can engage with each other, places that provide meaning to the workplace and the energy needed to perform impactful work. Emphasising the workplace’s importance allows people to build the social relationships and interactions needed to support that work. And designing a workplace that balances the physical with the virtual allows team members—no matter where they are— to continue to collaborate and innovate.