Dan Zakai is the Co-Founder and CEO of Mindspace, a global provider of boutique flexible spaces in 16 cities across Europe and the U.S.
Six months into the coronavirus crisis, it’s clear that our methods and spaces of work are shifting. But while there has been a great deal of ink devoted to the idea that remote work is the future and the traditional office is dead, I don’t see things as so extreme.
The No. 1 thing that respondents in our recent survey of London-based workers said they missed during lockdown was being around colleagues. While many big tech companies delay their office returns until next year, Facebook turned all predictions of home-working futures on their heads last month when it announced the acquisition of a new 730,000-square-foot office.
Instead, the pandemic has set into motion a series of design and architecture trends for workplaces. It has also turned up the fire on a handful of trends that were already in motion. I suspect that history will remember this as a catalyst for change, much of which will be immensely positive. Let’s examine a few of these impending potential shifts in the spaces we occupy.
1. Sustainability And Well-Being
Humans today spend a great deal of time indoors, and much of our environment is harsh and unnatural. If there’s a silver lining to all this sickness, it’s that the entire global community has become more keyed into health and wellness, and there’s now an implicit understanding that we need to safeguard our lungs and our immune systems and practice vigilance against the next health threat to avoid a repeat of this catastrophic year.
Our workplaces will adapt to this new awareness. The idea of wellness, which was already gaining traction among corporations in the form of yoga classes, meditation rooms and healthy on-site nutrition options, has been a buzzword since the 1980s when corporations first realized that if they helped their workers stay healthy, they could lower their own bottom lines in terms of healthcare costs, enhance employee retention, and boost motivation and productivity across the workforce.
But after the pandemic, workplace wellness will mean something more immersive. I predict that air filtration systems will be installed or replaced to ensure that the air going in and out of employees’ lungs is free of viruses and contaminants. The harsh LED lights of traditional offices will be replaced with biocentric or blue-wavelength lights that better mimic natural everyday cues, and directives on the levels of fresh or purified air in workplaces will be tightened.
2. Touchless Corridors And Commutes
We can sanitize the workplace and make it a safe cocoon, but what about getting into the workplace? What about the hallways employees must walk down, the elevators they must ride and even the question of their commutes?
I expect the future workplace will be marked by a series of touchless and no-contact corridors, all designed to move workers in and out of sanitized bubbles with little risk of contagion and contamination. Even after a vaccine for Covid-19 is developed and the imminent threat is reduced, the level of consciousness about shared spaces, germ transmission and the urgency of sanitization will stick around. Our culture, in this sense, has been irrevocably changed, the next pandemic already in our sight.
Forms of carpooling may become more commonplace for commutes to work, with shared minivans picking up employees at their homes, depositing them at the office door and then returning them to their residences in the evenings.
Walkways, corridors and common spaces will be designed with wider dimensions to eliminate overcrowding, and the potential for new touchless technologies — which may be able to scan foreheads for fever, select an elevator floor and even open doors — shouldn’t be underestimated.
3. Flexibility As Key
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that plans must be adapted often. As the future of work remains murky and uncertain, flexible work schedules and spaces will be in increasing demand.
A recent Cushman and Wakefield report, “The Future of Workplace,” laid it plain: the post-pandemic workplace will not be one tall, static building, but rather an ecosystem of locations and experiences working in tandem to provide the convenience, well-being and community support that employees crave. And more than ever before, the office will provide not just a physical space for working together, but a site to strengthen culture connections, bond with both customers and colleagues, and jump-start creativity and innovation.
Unsurprisingly, I feel certain that flexibility will be at the root of all this. Workers will not relinquish the ability to control their own schedules, and managers and landlords alike will understand that in order to maintain cleanliness, social distance, sanitization and low costs, flexible schedules are the key.
This may play out in design and architecture, with lower-footprint buildings of fewer floors replacing the skyscrapers that we see across cities like London and New York, particularly those with small elevators and creaking ventilation systems. Such a shift will allow for mixed-use workspaces that employees rotate in and out of, keeping group sizes small for in-person working while still maintaining the broad connections and social ties of a physical office.
We can also expect to see flexibility in the manner in which cleaning, hygiene and office management is handled, because with a greater desire for cleanliness, shared spaces can spread out the costs for deep and constant cleans. That shift will be supported by technology, in the form of intelligent toilets, air quality monitors and automated filtration systems.
As the coronavirus pandemic drags on, it’s becoming clear that neither workers nor managers are ready to relinquish the physical office space anytime soon. Office culture fosters critical elements of business life, from employee collaboration and social engagement to staff promotions, and will survive this crisis. And to survive, you must simply adapt. These three key points show us just how that adaptation may play out.
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