Our changing workplaces: Five trends set to outlast the pandemic

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2020 we saw a mass exodus of people from office buildings. Many people worked from home for the first time, from kitchen benches, dining tables and even ‘soft offices’ (the couch or bed). Meetings were held via Zoom, school and training moved online, we rediscovered our own neighbourhoods. As COVID-19 vaccinations are rolled out across Australia we can now confidently plan for a post-pandemic future. But what will that look like? And will workplaces be forever changed?

For some, returning to the office will be synonymous with a return to normal life, but for others, the pandemic provided a glimpse into a different way of working. Employers and employees experienced many positive outcomes that are likely to continue to influence how we work in the future. Working from home is like to remain popular in some industries at least and some corporate flexibility will remain.

So, what does it all mean for the future of workplaces and in particular, the design of work spaces and office buildings? Is the office building dead?

Here are five workplace trends we predict will continue into the future:

  1. With fewer people in the office every day, existing office buildings will evolve to support a range of uses, such as shops, residential apartments, the barber, childcare and so on. Mixed use buildings will be the key to reinvigorating our cities. New buildings will be designed to incorporate spaces that can adapt for a range of uses.
  2. Social distancing will persist, at least for the short-term, and traditional open plan workplaces will be reconfigured to include zoned spaces and team work areas. Access to open air spaces, such as rooftop gardens and courtyards, will be important, particularly in new building design.
  3. Corporate offices will be redesigned to incorporate more conference areas, meeting rooms and spaces for video conferencing. Interaction, sharing ideas and spending time with our colleagues will be supported and valued.
  4. Our homes will also be our workplaces. With corporate flexibility now entrenched, work and study spaces will be more thoughtfully integrated into homes. That could mean adding a separate studio or office in the backyard, converting an existing room, extending the family home or designing a new home with a purpose-built work/study space. Having a Zoom-friendly backdrop and fast internet will be key priorities.
  5. Community or shared work spaces will emerge in local neighbourhoods. In established areas it could be a converted hall, gym or a room in a community centre. Little hubs will pop up in residential areas allowing people to connect – without the long commute to work. Shared work spaces and community hubs will be incorporated into the design of new residential developments.

Many of these changes were happening before COVID-19, the pandemic only served to accelerate the pace of change.

As architects, it’s our role to look at the big picture and ask the important questions about how people will live and work, now and in the future. Future proofing in building design is about considering all the possibilities and how needs might change across the long-term – even if right now the client just wants an office building.

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