It’s been months of working from home, and being at home while “at work”…and while some of us may have re-fallen in love with our interiors, I’m sure that most of us spend significant time thinking about updates we could make to our space as soon as we can get outside for some furniture shopping! While this period of quarantine has had its trials and a lot of closures have temporarily halted major projects (like my own new studio space on King East in Toronto…and a number of products I had in production in Europe and the Middle East!), the slower pace of things has also given us time to reflect.
I’ve been spending a lot of time not only thinking about how my space will evolve to match this new way of living and working, but how the spaces I design for commercial and residential clients will have new considerations attached to them and new priorities. Yes, that will evolve our role as designers, but it doesn’t mean we can’t stay creative and playful in how we make the most of these spaces in the future…it just means we have to be thinking different about the practical use of these spaces.
Here are just a few of the shifts I expect we’ll see in the design world:
Workspaces: A Blending of Physical and Virtual
Post-COVID, it’s unlikely that everyone who works in the office will be returning to work at the same time. Spaces can be adapted to accommodate social distancing, but that only works if people actually behave that way. So, it makes sense to use a people-centric approach in planning the return to the office. This means, collaboration, performance and wellbeing must be at the center of any return to office strategy.
Pre-COVID, organizations were not all operating the way we imagine the future of work to be, but now is the time to embrace learning and transformation. One of the strategies that will be blended into the daily routines of office life, is fully Integrating technology into the space to prepare offices for the ongoing influx of Zoom calls and video conferencing for meetings. Seamlessly tech-integrated offices help to maximize the benefits of both physical and virtual work to support teams, and even presents the additional benefit of making it possible to hire talent wherever they may be! Tech will remain a major consideration in design.
A Focus on Employee Wellness & Safe Spaces
The reason to have a physical office is the same as it always has been…to bring people together around a shared purpose and collaborating. The same people-centric, workplace transformations that we have been advocating for years (i.e. wellness in a workplace), which improve flexibility, social connection, and user experience, become even more important under the current constraints.
Automation integration will be a major ask from designers who are working on commercial spaces – no more pressing the elevator button, or touching door handles, sink taps, or even the coffee maker buttons! As a designer, the flow and process of the whole office…and even the whole building, needs to be considered. Narrow hallways will be one-way, kitchens will leave space for distancing, desks may return to a more cubicle form – rather than communal tables, large meeting rooms that may have been designed for 10-12 people might now be occupied by 3-4, so we will consider repurposing existing shared spaces to allow for intentional separation and safety of employees.
The future of design will move toward smart buildings (which enable touchless operation), WELL buildings (for fresh air and daylight), and space booking and clean desk policies.
The Evolution of the Office Building
It’s not just the individual workspaces we need to be thinking about – what of the actual building? HVAC systems need to be properly adjusted. Studies are still being conducted to understand the relationship between HVAC and viral spread, but companies should consider investing in antimicrobial filters, UV lights for return air openings, increased airflow and longer system operation times. Having operational windows where available is also important, as is increased sanitation of ductwork with UV light and sprays. It can be daunting, but it is…and will continue to be…the new reality we face now.
Bringing the Office to Your Home, Not Just Having a Home Office
Some companies that aren’t doing rotating schedules, have opted to have employees work from home every day going forward. That means people won’t just be looking for a “work from home” space…they will need to have access to all of the materials, supplies, resources and tech that they would in an office, but from home. When I think about how this impacts design, I instantly think about how no one wants an office style-printer sitting in the middle of their home office. (You know I’m right here!) My goal for future home offices? Pair functionality, the client’s personality, and playfulness into the space…discreet shelving systems to tuck away office items you need but don’t necessarily need to see. Enhance the space with tools that bolster productivity and wellness – Wi-Fi boosters, video screens, storage cabinets, GOOD lighting – but still maintain a sense of comfort and efficient flow. Have multiple seating areas if the space in the room allows it, so that clients can have different areas to be productive or take a break; maybe choosing furniture pieces that serve multiple purposes…both as storage and as added desk or meeting space. Most of all the space needs to feel “loved” …after all, it will be the new home of the 9-5.
Similar to a number of industries, the design and manufacturing spaces will see significant changes in a post-COVID world…and although office spaces have been top-of-mind for me lately with my own studio under construction…the design changes will ripple across all public spaces. Movie theatres, restaurants, shopping centres, airplanes and community centres…will all begin to evolve in their design, becoming more considerate of personal space and more conscious of the experience humans will have. It’s both an exciting and challenging time for a designer, but I’m keeping creative in looking at design through this new lens and finding new inspirations to make our homes and offices functional…yet gorgeous, of course!
Founder and Designer, Noda Designs