Why we still need the office workplace

1200x630_People and the workplace

Workspace design post-COVID: During 2020, office workers around the world have been dropped into a mass remote working experiment and it has started a debate as to what the future of the workplace looks like.

Where homeworking before COVID-19 was characterised as being an employee benefit for work-life balance, there’s no doubt that homeworking will cement itself as an alternative to office working and employees will have the choice of where to work to best suit their day.

A Savills survey (July 2020) shows that 89% of people believe that physical office space remains a necessity for businesses to successfully operate, but 71% of people believe there will be a long-term impact on workspace design as a result . Ultimately, workplaces should be designed to facilitate core business needs, and should support productive, healthy and happy employees. Even before COVID-19, we were amidst a paradigm shift and seeing a rapid transition from open plan offices, to agile workspace design.

Although workspace design is heavily dependent on core business needs, here are some ways in which we can expect to see workplaces change across the board.

Client meetings and events

The workplace is a shop-window for the organisation it houses; this is particularly true for flagship corporate financial services offices. A head office should represent the brand and its people. and even now it will be more practical and desirable to host client meetings in-person. Also, with more people working from home and desk numbers being reduced, it’s likely that we will see an even bigger focus on demonstrating company values and brand personality through flagship buildings.

The office will be designed to deliver exceptional guest experience in an impressive showcase of an organisation’s DNA for client meetings and events. The focus will be on fine dining hospitality, in-house entertainment and small-scale seminar events.

Social breakout areas

Isolation and loneliness have affected much of the workforce during the global pandemic, so it’s more important than ever to foster social interaction. We know that positive relationships at work can have a big impact on collaboration and even on employee retention rates, so there is a strong business case for supporting social interaction. With people working from home more regularly, socialising at work will now become central to the workplace and workspace design should reflect this with more breakout areas, coffee spaces and restaurants to enable employees to socialise safely. We’ll see companies sacrifice desk space for in-house café’s and informal seating areas.

Collaboration spaces

Idea generating hubs: Collaboration and ideas-generation are difficult tasks to execute in virtual spaces. That’s why we anticipate that safe, flexible collaboration areas will be a top priority for office composition for 2021 onwards. Designed so that people can operate a productive session whilst keeping a safe distance from one another, we expect to see new services like touchpoint cleaning deployed between sessions, and technology installed to ensure safe airflow in the room.

Onboarding and training areas: Joining a new company but not meeting your colleagues is a strange prospect, and one that simply isn’t as engaging as in-person physical get-togethers. It’s the same with training. Although e-learning is a viable option in some cases, there’s so much value to be reaped from face-to-face learning sessions. That’s why centralised offices are likely to continue to host these functions and adapt spaces to be fully setup to support them safely.


Government regulations for safe circulation in the office are constantly evolving and, as a result, our workspaces will need to be adaptable. It’s likely that we’ll see workspaces flex to have larger spaces around desks to avoid people colliding too frequently. Washroom and kitchenette design could also change to ensure there’s less unnecessary interaction between people. Technology like live occupancy monitoring will be designed into buildings to support the safe management of washrooms, meeting rooms, kitchenettes and corridors. 



Cleanliness and sanitation

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly disrupted the way people work and live. ‘Social distancing’ has now become synonymous with ‘safety’. PURE SPACE which has been launched by ISS aims to help employees reconnect with their work environments by ensuring a hygienic, safe place to work. It is designed to repair the disruption, so employees can feel they are returning to a safe working environment.

There’s no doubt that we will also see a marked increase in contactless sanitiser stations at building entrances/exits and near eating areas. Although this is a small adaptation (and something that has already been widely adopted), there is still a need to integrate these highly visible and safe working practices effectively in the workplace.

Physical office space is essential  

Whilst the sharp transition to virtual working has been better than anyone could have predicted; there are functions that need to be carried out in the workplace to maximise effectiveness. Face-to-face collaboration, onboarding, training and client meetings can’t be matched with a virtual alternative. That’s why we predict a repurposing of our office spaces for businesses to continue delivering shareholder value and Facilities Management will continue to be at the frontline enabling the shift.

A recent article by Leesman claims that ‘the desk isn’t dead, but the reasons for keeping it alive are new.’ Their research shows that organisations must make the effort to deeply understand the nature of work in their organisations before making knee jerk reactions based merely on headlines, and instead seize the opportunity now to craft a new post-pandemic workplace ecosystem that puts the employees’ working effectiveness at its epicentre – ultimately for the benefit of the organisation. 


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