Emerging New Post-Pandemic Trends in Office Design and Workspace
Mary Prenon | March 20, 2023
In the post-Pandemic world, many people have returned to their offices full-time or on a hybrid schedule, and live events from small meetings to large conventions have slowly started to return. While videoconferencing remains a staple in most businesses, more people coming back into an office could mean more reorganization of workspaces.
“During the Pandemic, we saw a trend of pushing desks farther apart and putting up plexiglass between them,” observed Kate Lister, Founding Partner of Global Workplace Analytics in San Diego, CA. “There was also a movement away from offering unassigned desks as one way of helping to stop the spread of germs.”
Today, as a result of living through a global Pandemic, some offices have started to bring back the cubicles or create more modern partitions or half-walls to give employees a sense of their own space. “Having an open office may not work now,” explained Lister. “I think many businesses had also pushed the limit on the number of people they could squeeze into workspaces.”
To entice remote workers back into the office, some businesses have started to offer smaller meeting areas for less people but with more space, in addition to relaxation areas and “phone booth” offices that provide private space for personal phone calls. “Conference room technology has also improved so that now everyone can see everyone else,” added Lister. “Many conference rooms are now equipped with multiple monitors as well.”
However, Lister believes reorganizing the office is not the biggest problems companies today are facing—it’s actually convincing current employees, as well as potential new ones, to return to the office. “This comes as no surprise, but only 15% to 20% of Millennials and Gen Z want to be in the office full-time,” she said. “Most are looking for just one to three days a week in the office and the remainder at home.”
Another outcome of the Pandemic is the need for more flexibility in work schedules. “It’s not realistic to expect everyone to work in the same time frame,” she said. “Many firms have started having ‘core hours’ of 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for example, and allowing employees to set their own start and finish times within the eight-hour workday. Lister reasoned that this approach gives people more time in the morning with their children or to do errands.
A recent study by Global Workplace Analytics indicated that 90% of people want some type of remote work option, and 63% of them have jobs that can be done partially at home. The study also shows that 45% of the work force will be working at home within the next few years.
Essential workers, such as medical professionals, truck drivers, construction workers or other service personnel generally don’t have those options. However, many doctors have been offering virtual visits to their patients, and some shift workers have been involved in shift-sharing practices.
“For the most part, we’ve found that introverts have also enjoyed working at home, and that can sometimes equalize the playing field,” she said. “In meetings, for example, they can use the virtual raised hand to ask a question or make a point—something they may hesitate to do in a live setting.”
Today, more than ever, companies have to be creative in bringing people back into the office—even for just a few days a week. “If you want them to come in, you have to give them a reason,” she said.
Tom La Perch, Director of Houlihan Lawrence’s Commercial Real Estate Division, said overall the office market is still slow across the Hudson Valley. “I think Westchester has a little bit more of a buffer than many regions because of the biotechnology and medical industries in our area, and the amount of Class A office space available,”’ he said. Class A buildings typically have several amenities such as a cafeteria, gym, shops and often upgraded HVAC and air filtering systems.
LaPerch agrees that getting employees back into offices can be a challenge. “I don’t see a five-day work week in the office happening anytime soon,” he said. His clients seeking office space are now looking at plans that include more private areas for employees. “They’re not completely abandoning the open concept—you’ll see more couches and coffee areas for meetings, but also more partitions separating workspaces.”
Paul Adler, Chief Strategy Officer with Rand Commercial Real Estate, said one of the biggest requests he’s hearing from clients now is office space with daycare facilities either in the building or nearby. “During the Pandemic, people got used to caring for their children at home and they want to be able to be near them during the day,” he said. “Employees are also looking for amenities like fitness centers, clean spaces without carpeting, and more ‘green’ buildings. If they’re coming back, they want to have an upscale, healthy building.”
Another important issue for building owners who are trying to lease space is to offer better security. “It may not necessarily have to be a guard on duty, but things like buzz-ins and video doorbells are helpful,” he said. “People want an added sense of feeling safe while at work.”
In terms of office design, Adler agrees that the cubicle is making a comeback. “Employees do want more collaborative space but they also want to be able to retreat to their own space after meetings,” he said.
Infinity Group, a Hartford, CT-based design-driven architecture and construction firm, has also noticed the post-Pandemic trend of offices moving away from a total open space concept to one with more personal spaces. With offices across the country, including New York City, the company has helped both large and small businesses redefine their office spaces.
“I think the biggest problem with open offices was the noise,” explained Laura Tremko, Director of Design. “People working at home got used to the quiet, so we see a lot of offices now setting up paneling systems and personal workspaces.” Some new styles of partitions include clear plexiglass at the top to provide additional light. Many of today’s offices also offer common areas for meetings, and hybrid schedules allow for less people to be in the office at one time.
Tremko’s designs, color schemes and furnishings always depend upon the type of business. “If it’s a creative type like an ad agency, they may be interested in bold colors and casual, comfortable furniture,” she said. “But when you’re dealing with the financial industry, they tend to prefer more muted tones and traditional desks and chairs.”
Infinity’s heaviest concentration of work lately has been in the Northeast—Boston, Hartford and the New York metro area, as well as Austin, TX. “We’re also seeing a trend of companies downsizing from large cities and moving to more suburban areas,” Tremko added. “Many of them don’t need as much space now with a hybrid workforce, and relocating to suburban areas also helps them to attract employees.”
Clients are also requesting additions like plants or other types of natural elements to make the office environment more pleasing. “People still want that human connection, so I think there will always be a need for a place for them to come together, even if it’s not as often as it used to be.”
Photos courtesy of Infinity Group