Covid-19 has turned our personal lives and working worlds upside down. After months of forced participation in a comprehensive work-from-home experiment, our expectations around work and the workplace have fundamentally changed accelerating a trend already evident over the past two decades.

Over that time, the workplace has shifted from a binary space where the choice was between working at a desk or in a meeting room (workplace 1.0) to an open-plan desking environment interspersed with the occasional sofa (workplace 2.0). Attention is now turning to the workplace of the future – what will individuals want and need from their place of work post-Covid?

Proponents of home working argue there is no need to return to the office. They say our homes - or our local café – have permanently replaced the need for a shared office. But supporters of the office argue that this neglects critical lessons from generations who believe in the workplace as our second home – the place where we solve problems together, create solutions with colleagues and generate social capital.

Two men chatting in office

How companies approach the post-pandemic workplace will depend on the nature of their businesses, their culture and the opinions of their leadership. We believe that tomorrow’s office will be a fully balanced workplace where people are supported however and wherever they choose to work. This is what we call Workplace 3.0: the office of the future.

Workplace 3.0 is a destination – a collaborative and social hub inspired by the hospitality world but with space for quiet work. Visually attractive, it’s a balanced workplace which reflects organisations’ environmental and social beliefs with a focus on wellbeing. Workplace 3.0 is the ultimate enabler of productivity, a recruitment and retention tool and the key for post-Covid organisational success.

Why do we need the office?

The office is the physical heart and soul of a business, reflecting its brand and culture.

Without it, you have a floating, fragmented collection of individuals loosely connected by a company name. Compelling intelligence about a company can be derived from a visit to the office and buying decisions are often made accordingly. Companies heavily invest in social capital which is held within their networks, their teams’ knowledge, their ideas and group resilience. Without a physical workplace, social capital is rapidly eroded.

The office grants us the ability to interact face-to-face whether in formal meeting rooms or in accidentally in corridors or breakout areas. Our body language, vocal interjections and camaraderie contribute to a gold standard of collaboration.

Royal Navy breakout space


The next generation of talent make their decisions about where to work based on company values demonstrated through the place of work. People then absorb learning and gain wisdom through sitting alongside their more experienced colleagues. The handover of knowledge accumulates with time and creates intellectual and cultural capital for a business.


And then there is the unspoken chemistry that runs through every office. Synergies bring people together and relationships are formed. Chance encounters, struggles, challenges and shared victories nurture the soul of a company. Businesses make progress through their ability to innovate. Innovations come about when people are in the same room. All the video conferencing technology in the world will never replace this human need to be together.

Man working alone in home office
Busy breakout area with biophilia

Home working vs the office

Having experienced the obvious benefits of working from home, many people will continue to see it as a viable choice for the future – for at least part of the working week. Swapping the commute for more time with friends and family, as well as the financial saving and environmental benefits can boost people’s sense of wellbeing and productivity as well as contributing to an organisation’s sustainability goals.

Workplace 3.0 will provide a balance between home and office working, depending on people’s individual preferences and their work activities. Some will want to come to the office so they can focus on individual work because they can’t concentrate in their home environments while others will want to work from home to get detailed work completed. The office of the future will be a collaborative and social hub where people come together to discuss ideas, come up with solutions to problems and be together.

While the technology exists to facilitate easy home working, leaders may need to adapt their management styles, relinquishing visual control over team members.

Workplace 3.0: The office of the future

While the Covid vaccines are gradually reducing the risk of further lockdowns and the need for social distancing in workplaces, business leaders must think about the possibility of future pandemics when considering the office of the future.

Workplace 3.0: The office of the future will be shaped from the lessons learned today and with future pandemics in mind. Crucially, our long-term duty of care as employers, landlords and designers is to the people working in those offices to ensure their health and safety is paramount.


Convincing home workers to make the leap of faith and return to the office – even if it is for a proportion of their working week – will be critical for the future success of businesses. In order for this to happen, offices need to become destinations, there is more effort involved in getting there but the benefits reaped make it truly worth the extra bother. People must fear missing out if they don’t come to a physical workplace.

Breathing a new life-force into our familiar workplace is therefore critical to maintain this lynchpin role. The office location, size, design, layout and how they make us feel are some of the issues that will require scrupulous attention over the coming months.

This Morgan Lovell living document combines the expert opinion of our workplace consultants and office designers. We will collectively update our thoughts as the anticipated metamorphosis unfolds and will provide in-depth commentary on the following aspects of the office of the future as trends develop:

  • Location: Will organisations change location, adopting a hub and spoke model?
  • Floorspace: Will we occupy more or less space over time?
  • Landlord and tenant relationships: Will the current partnership approach continue?
  • Workplace design: How design and fit out will be reinvigorated post Covid
  • Office culture: How the business heartbeat will adapt to the new rhythms of its people
  • Wellbeing: A renewed focus on physical and mental health for office workers
  • Environmental concerns: How will workplaces support the Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance agenda?
  • Technology: How tech is changing the way we work

Location

Real estate portfolios are a key focus of attention as businesses plan their post-Covid return to work. An undisputable long-term concern will be to reduce occupational costs and simultaneously respond to workforce pressure to reduce commuting time.

Some traditional urban epicentres will be broken down into decentralised regional hubs – known as the hub and spoke model – which will bring challenges around maintaining a strong cultural identity. Out-of-town business parks may see an uplift in demand, allowing workers to park on-site.

Floorspace

The amount of space companies occupy is a critical concern for industry leaders faced with fast-approaching lease renewals.

In the short-term, while social distancing remains, businesses will need to sweat every square metre at their disposal to keep people safe and maximise productivity. However as time moves on, shifts in user activity and maintaining an emphasis on home working for some work activities will inevitably result in offices needing less desk space. Whether this results in a reduced, or increased demand for floorspace will depend on individual business activity and cultural dynamics.

This is further addressed under ‘workplace design’.

Landlord and tenant relations

Many landlords and tenants have worked closely together over the past year in a way rarely seen before. This partnership approach benefits everyone and there’s early signs that this will continue post-pandemic.

There will be industry pressure exerted on landlords to offer higher quality Category A fit outs. Larger organisations may not be willing to compromise on their aspirations for ready-made activity based working and wellbeing spaces. Across the board, landlords will need to respond to demand for ‘pandemic-proofed’ and certified space, fitted out with anti-microbial materials, sophisticated ventilation systems and smart technology.

It’s inevitable leases may require substantial renegotiation so occupiers maintain flexibility while their businesses and people adjust their needs in this time of great flux.

It’s clear that we are facing a new era of greater landlord and tenant collaboration.

Workspace design

Our future first impression when entering Workplace 3.0 will be crystal-clear branding synchronised with a strong sense of arrival. Elements of design drawn from boutique hospitality and co-working venues will inspire a team’s sense of pride and shared purpose.

The brightest and best talent will continue to be attracted to these companies by a strong desire to participate and belong. We will see a demise in traditional workstations as focused work will continue to be undertaken at home for those with the right home-working environment. This will result in an acceleration towards multi-purposed activity-based working.

This reduction in demand for workstations will manifest itself in two ways: the market will be flooded with sub-lets as companies attempt to claw back rent, and others will repurpose the environment creating a more diverse menu of areas to stimulate group dynamics, encouraging agility and creativity. A 2017 McKinsey Global survey showed how agile units performed significantly better than those who were not agile. However, only a minority of organisations were actually performing agile transformations even though it was high on the list of aspirations. Workplace design will enable an accelerated transition towards agility and creativity in Workplace 3.0.

Hybrid spaces will be used socially for break-outs and informal catch-ups. Safe, creative areas will be designed for essential collaboration with the aim of uplifting team spirit. Robin Dunbar, a professor of evolutionary psychology at Oxford University, emphasised the significant impact of creating communities within organisations. This demonstrates how feelings of camaraderie and a support network can add to a positive experience in the workplace. Such design elements will naturally reinforce a perpetual sense of togetherness – our future equivalent of yesterday’s paintballing trip.

Touch-down areas popular for team working will no longer need desktop settings. Laptops and smartphones will deliver all the agility people need. Enclosed booths will facilitate direct lines into video conferences with those working away from the office. Paying attention to a spectrum of workforce personalities, introverts will be coaxed from home by the provision of library spaces and quiet thought booths. Personal preferences will change when it comes to how to travel to the office and our space will need to cater for this by providing well-equipped showers and making allowances for personal care.

Office culture

Culture and company values will need to be strong, authentic and tangible to inspire the highest levels of productivity in Workplace 3.0. A sense of social cohesion running through companies will contribute to driving innovation and productivity.

Trust will be at the heart of every future high-performance culture, and must flow two ways. A higher proportion of workers will continue to work from home when they can. The journey for old-school managers may be challenging, but they will inevitably adjust away from judging on presenteeism, instead measuring their people on performance, productivity and output.

Likewise, office workers must be able to trust their leadership teams to oversee their workspace, its maintenance and cleanliness. Visible proof and transparent communication will offer reassurance that duty of care is – and will continue to be – a top priority.

Listening to teams’ requirements will be a key element to a successful cultural shift. Office workers will be given every opportunity to voice their concerns, desires and requests for change. And strong leadership teams will act appropriately by translating this into a rolling workplace strategy in Workplace 3.0.

Wellbeing

Wellbeing, the state of being comfortable, healthy or happy, has become a key area of corporate focus over the past year. With a direct correlation between how we feel and how we function, the future workplace will be constructed, designed and managed with wellness in mind.

Whether it’s the provision of natural light, biophilic elements, wellness spaces, more opportunities for hydration or using any outdoor areas more effectively, the companies who genuinely believe in the benefits of listening to their people, attending to their needs and delivering wellbeing in the workplace will find themselves in pole position. The cardinal question will be “What more can we do for our people?”

Environmental concerns

The pandemic has exposed our vulnerability and fragile relationship with the global ecosystem like never before. Future business leaders will experience a heightened sense of responsibility to attain carbon neutral status, driven partly by the incoming millennials and increasingly important Corporate and Social Responsibility departments and Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance (ESG) agenda.

According to Bain and Co, companies will view critical actions through a sustainability lens. A by-product of demonstrating proactive concern for the environment during, and beyond, the crisis will be more solid customer and supplier relationships, enhanced corporate reputations and improved employee loyalty and productivity.

Where investment in high-tech fit out allows, offices of the future will undoubtedly be smarter. They will employ low energy technology to deliver and control environmental solutions, with an increased focus on alternative sources of power. Fit outs themselves will be lower in embodied carbon.

Technology

Workplace 3.0 will continue to bring humans and machines closer together. People who have the choice to work from home will continue to access rapidly-evolving technology tools.

Buildings will have the ability to track and recognise us from data supplied by our smartphones, ensuring seamless access and contactless journeys into the workplace. This information may feed into sanitisation schedules based on our movements.

Visitor management systems will adopt contactless facial, voice and iris recognition technology for tracking and thermal imaging cameras to gauge body temperature. And UV light will blitz workspaces after-hours eradicating invisible enemies.

Currently, such innovations will only be accessed by the privileged few until associated costs are on a realistic scale, but this will change. Landlords and occupiers wanting to demonstrate a competitive edge will invest in these technologies.

Closing thoughts

Despite the far-reaching, negative impact of the pandemic, we have undoubtedly gained wisdom to take forward in our personal and working lives.

Many more people in the future will continue to work from home when the task is appropriate. Their decision will be based around cost, convenience and company policy. However, there is an inherent personal limitation in solely working from home which lies in our need for and the value we derive from face-to-face human connections.

When successful business leaders reflect on this period, they will take pride in knowing that their duty of care, operational resilience and vision contributed to their company’s growth. Those leaders gave us the choice of where to work. As a result of their approach and actions, we benefitted from focused days at home, but we also chose to spend much of our working week together in our enhanced office of the future – Workplace 3.0.

Those leaders attributed much value to their company’s social and cultural capital and the potential power they generate. They listened to their people’s wishes, they trusted them and responded accordingly. They re-modelled their offices into real destinations where people wanted to come to because they feared missing out.

These reinvigorated venues provided a space for us to converge, to thrive, learn, grow, inspire, innovate, create and collaborate. Not from behind a webcam in our spare room – but together in a real place, a safe place. A place that as humans we need – our office.

Paul Dare, Miles McLeod, Adrian Norman