Study "Back to the Office"

The need for "third places of work" is increasing

What do employees want from their workplace of tomorrow? We spoke with Katharina Dienes from the Fraunhofer IAO about the current study "Back to the Office".

Jun 06 2022

Ms Dienes, the Fraunhofer IAO surveyed 1,000 people on the future of work for the "Back to the Office" study? What aspects of work were examined in the process? 

The "Back to the Office" study analyses in particular new requirements for office spaces due to the current changes in the office and working world.

With the outbreak of the Corona Pandemic 2020, everyday life changed abruptly for many office and knowledge workers. In part, both employees and employers gained their first experiences with spatially distributed work and realised: remote work, that can work! 

What do you conclude from this? 

It can be assumed that these experiences of the last two years will permanently change the future of the office and working world. According to a home office study with 2,100 participants, the expected number of home office days in the future was given as an average of 7.2 days per month, whereas before the Corona pandemic people only worked from home for 2.8 days.

Because of the alternative to working at a company location, this means: in the future, every office attendance will be based on a conscious, always-on decision. 

What does this mean for the design of the office? 

The office of the future will no longer be just a place to work, but above all a place for physical encounters and informal exchanges with colleagues. Office spaces will have to change in the long term to meet the new requirements – away from homogeneous office structures and towards a lively and diverse office landscape. 

What do employees want from the workplace of tomorrow? 

Employees would like to see an increase in communication and exchange areas in the office of the future. In the development of future office buildings, the focus is on the expansion of meeting places to increase the feeling of belonging to a team and the interdisciplinary exchange of knowledge. 

Are there other wishes? 

In addition, the study highlights the importance of developing sustainable business locations with new symbioses between nature and the office. 25 percent of respondents are in favour of using roof and façade areas, outdoor spaces and saved indoor spaces for food production ("urban farming").

The survey also found great enthusiasm among all age groups for supplementing indoor spaces with workplaces in green areas – especially if these can also be used outside office hours.  

Where do they expect the biggest changes in the working world? 

Due to the digitalisation of work processes and the largely positive experience of spatially distributed working during the Corona Pandemic, the working world will become even more flexible in the future. Work activities are basically no longer bound to the office building or the home office, but can be carried out (almost) anywhere with the prerequisite of a stable internet connection and sufficient power sockets. This development offers completely new possibilities for integrating workplaces into the urban context. 

What impact does this have on the choice of work location? 

Where coworking spaces were mainly used by the self-employed and workers in the IT and creative industries just a few years ago, the need to use so-called "third places of work" continues to grow among permanent employees as well. The desire for freedom of choice regarding the place of work and working hours is becoming more and more central.

For example, the study showed that every fourth person supports the idea of having regular team events at third locations and otherwise having freedom in determining the place of work. This new dynamic will increasingly have an impact on other areas of life, such as the choice of where to live.  

What conclusions can be drawn from the survey responses about the desired work-life balance? 

In general, it can be deduced from the results that despite all flexibility, employees will need both in the future: both freedom and belonging. The office remains an important hub for meeting and physical exchange. Nevertheless, it can be assumed that in the long term work will become spatially blurred with the private environment and that boundaries will dissolve. 

Does this also apply to the office?  

Conversely, leisure and recreation areas will also increasingly move into the office building in the future. To increase the motivation and well-being of the employees, areas will be supplemented by the typical "Silicon Valley" table football, the ball pool or the Beer Tap in the open communal kitchen.

Sports activities such as yoga sessions or team runs are designed to strengthen the sense of community and lead to long-term staff loyalty. This illustration makes it clear: despite a distance between work and leisure that is still desired in some cases, the areas of life are increasingly overlapping. 

What concrete influence could the study results have on the design of office space? 

Office space will be more diverse in the future. The classic office structures with long central corridors and multi-person offices, as well as monotonous open-plan offices no longer meet the current demands on the office as a communication platform. This development is fully confirmed by the "Back to the Office" study. 

What do you expect for the office of the future? 

The office of the future will continue to exist, but it will have to change significantly in terms of space and atmosphere. In addition, the office of the future will become green and sustainable. The importance of the natural environment outside the company location as well as greening inside the building beyond the current yucca palms is also impressively shown by the results of the study.

Overall, the Corona Pandemic caused a rethinking of the office and work environment. This rethinking is visible in the current changes in work organisations and processes and will therefore also lead to a long-term rethinking in the design of office space.  

The study "Back to the Office" was implemented by Fraunhofer IAO together with Euroboden GmbH and Engel & Völkers Commercial Berlin. 

Katharina Dienes, Fraunhofer IAO © Fraunhofer IAO

Author: Broekmann+Partner

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