How will the coronavirus change working environments over the long term? What effects will we still be feeling long after the virus is under control or has even been eradicated?
We don’t have a definitive answer to that question and you shouldn’t trust anyone who claims to have one. However, through project experience and customer dialogue, we have been able to develop hypotheses on what we believe are the likeliest scenarios based on current developments. These are certainly worth bearing in mind.
Our hypotheses are based on the firm conviction that the ideal working environment is designed to ensure it optimally supports the activities and processes carried out in a company (multi-space/activity-based working). Depending on their purpose with regard to the activities carried out in them, we divide spaces into the following categories:
- Basic: Spaces for simple tasks that are carried out alone
- Retreat: Spaces for tasks requiring a high level of concentration that are carried out alone
- Meeting: Spaces for gatherings that are purely for exchanging information, i.e. traditional “meetings”
- Co-creation: Spaces for joint, creative and agile working with the aim of developing new concepts, solutions or products
- Community: Spaces for informal or non-work-related exchanges; helping to boost team spirit and feeling of community
What changes are currently taking place within and between these categories?
We believe that the time spent working from home has permanently anchored a specific experience in the collective consciousness of office workers in relation to each one of these categories. We also believe that these experiences will have clear implications for the office of the future:
An office is not absolutely essential for carrying out basic activities alone. In principle, these tasks can be completed just as well in the living room, garden, park or train. In the office of the future, the importance of spaces for basic activities will therefore gradually decline.
While some people have always appreciated the home office as a place of retreat, for others it means the exact opposite. Children, housemates or nearby construction work can make it very difficult to find the necessary peace and quiet at home, making the office an attractive place of retreat for working. Companies are being called on to set up more real retreat spaces and effective focus zones in future.
Thanks to digital meeting tools, traditional meetings with the purpose of exchanging information can be held just as effectively remotely. Like the spaces for basic activities, the importance of traditional meeting rooms will gradually decline in future.
For co-creation, effective digital tools are now available, but they still do not offer the same advantages as meeting in person does. The importance of effective areas for co-creation will increase, and companies are required to provide these.
There is very little true community, if at all, when working from home. However, that is something people yearn for, not only in their private lives but also in a professional context. The importance of community spaces will therefore also increase. Employers who recognise the direct link between the employee community and identification with the company, and purposefully foster community, will have a clear advantage.
There is a clear shift towards more retreat, more co-creation and more community, and towards fewer basic activities and traditional meetings in offices.
This transformation is particularly profound because the traditional office concept (which still predominates in a large percentage of companies) functions according to the principle of “standard workplaces plus meeting rooms” – i.e. the focus is still on the rooms that are dwindling in importance. For companies that had already adopted the multi-space approach before the coronavirus crisis, the transformation will be significantly easier to manage.
For the others, the need for action is all the more urgent, should our hypotheses prove true. Give your employees a reason to leave the home office – make the journey to the office worth their while!
Our industry, by contrast, is called upon to provide attractive offerings that meet the new requirements in a targeted way. Because one thing is clear: the office continues to be indispensable as a meeting place. Without it, a sense of alienation will inevitably develop. And it’s up to all of us to make sure that doesn’t happen.
“The new office of the future” was also one of the focus topics at designfunktion’s New Office Summit 2020. You can watch the full event including all the talks here.
Samir Ayoub, born 1973 in Wuppertal, Germany, has been managing partner of the designfunktion group since 2009. Before that, the trained wholesale and foreign trade merchant acquired his industry know-how at Vitra, Knoll International and the Objektform/Bene Group.
Under his leadership, the designfunktion group developed into one of the leading planning and furnishing companies in Germany and was able to establish itself as market leader, especially in the area of modern office and working environments. For his successful expansion of the company, Samir Ayoub was awarded the Munich Founder's Prize in the category "Succession/Takeover" in 2010 and was thus able to manifest his reputation as a developer and specialist for corporate succession.
The company is now represented nationwide with more than 350 employees at 18 locations and in almost every metropolitan region. Its customers include internationally operating large corporations and medium-sized companies such as ADAC, Allianz Global Digital Factory, BrandTrust, Merck, Microsoft, Serviceplan and Ströer.