With the roadmap out of lockdown published, many organisations will be busy planning their back-to-work strategy. After almost a year of working largely from home, many individuals are itching to get back to the workplace to see their colleagues in person, while others may be concerned about missing the peace and quiet that their home environment offered for focused work.

Claire Watson-Gold

Senior Project Designer

11th Mar 2021

How will the post-pandemic office need to change to deliver these different requirements? Covid-19 has provided the perfect opportunity for many organisations to rethink how their workplace design supports their business. But there’s some confusion about the different workplace settings available for forward-thinking organisations exploring the options for a post-pandemic workplace. This guide talks through the main areas within the office environment and how their use may change after the pandemic.

Workplace design settings

What are the different workplace settings?

– Quiet zones

– Collaboration spaces

– Desk space

– Refreshment areas

– Wellbeing spaces

– The great outdoors

– Storage space

– Anchor points

– Empty space

Busy breakout area in office

Quiet zones

Working from home has exposed people to either the benefit of having privacy and a quiet space to work, or the exact opposite – the need to get to an office to be able to concentrate.

When asked in our OnePulse poll what they missed most about the office, 63 percent of respondents said a quiet space to concentrate. But many existing quiet working spaces in offices may not be fit for purpose or designed with wellbeing in mind. They’re often small, individual pods in corridors where there is little natural light and they sometimes lack good ergonomics. People are forced to sacrifice a comfortable environment with the fundamental desktop technology they need along with any personal interaction to get the peace and quiet they desire. That will change.

More companies now recognise the need to have space dedicated to concentrated work. This is particularly important as work is changing to more digital interaction through virtual meetings which require single-occupancy acoustic pods. Organisations will therefore create pockets of quiet zones, similar to library-style areas. How they look and feel will depend on the organisation’s individual culture. It could be a whole open plan area thoughtfully located which is equipped with good technology and comfortable furniture but that is dedicated for quiet working – similar to the quiet carriage on a train. Or it could be enclosed standing phone pods, acoustic pods or library-style desks in open booths. More likely, workplaces will include a combination of many options in quiet zones on each floor.

Office design with quiet zones

Collaboration spaces

Successful collaboration has been one of the major challenges of working from home and the post-Covid office will need to provide a variety of different ways for people to get back together. The ability to collaborate easily was cited by 47 percent of survey respondents in our poll as being something they missed about the office.

The ability to collaborate easily was cited by 47% of survey respondents in our poll as being something they missed about the office.

Collaboration spaces fit out

Flexible collaboration spaces

Flexible collaboration space is the future of informal workplace collaboration. In the post-Covid world, there’s no one-size-fits-all. People collaborate differently depending on their job role and their learning and management styles.

In tomorrow’s collaboration spaces, people will be empowered to create their own bespoke collaboration spaces by using flexible, easily-configurable furniture. More than half (54 percent) of the people we spoke to in our OnePulse poll wanted to see more furniture that can be easily moved or configured in the post-Covid workplace to allow them to create their own space. Furniture manufacturers are already coming to market with exciting new products to facilitate this flexi-collaboration. This empowerment also enables businesses to better futureproof in an uncertain post-Covid world. They can use these flex spaces to upsize or downsize quickly.

54% of the people we spoke to in our OnePulse poll wanted to see more furniture that can be easily moved or configured in the post-Covid workplace.

Flexible office furniture for collaboration

Formal meeting rooms

Formal meeting rooms will remain a key part of the workplace arsenal but their location and layout may change. A meeting room without integrated video technology will be considered of little use in today’s Zoom culture – 41 percent of people in our survey wanted to see more widely-available video conferencing to communicate with people working elsewhere to reduce the need to travel.

In the past, this video conference technology may have been prioritised and reserved for large formal boardrooms, but it is now a necessity in any formal meeting room set up. Board rooms specifically, were often positioned towards the outside of the floorplate with large glass windows offering spectacular views. But windows and video conferencing facilities don’t always play well together, so we could see meeting facilities shifting to the inside of the floorplate where the lighting can be better controlled and technology used to replicate circadian rhythms through the effect of natural daylight in the space.

In this way, organisations will be able to better influence how they’re perceived on the other end of the video call and be more in control of the setting.

Meeting room fit out

Desk space

In the excitement of creating funky collaboration spaces, many businesses forget the importance of the humble desk. And that’s even more of an issue after 12 months of people working from home at everything from their kitchen table to their coffee table – 61 percent of people have missed the ergonomic set-up offered by the desk environment according to our poll and it was placed top in a list of preferred working areas. The desk is the lynchpin of the working environment. It provides the perfect ergonomic setting for people to work comfortably and productively. But even the desk will see an evolution in the post-Covid world.

Reflecting the increasing use of the office as a collaborative hub, there will be fewer fixed workstations as people will tend to use desks as a touchdown rather than an owned space. Desk booking systems will also become more prolific as organisations look to manage their space better. To ensure maximum flexibility as occupation levels fluctuate, many organisations will use more flexible bench desks which they can set out for two people, and then three and four as occupation levels increase. Sit-stand desks will remain important and not just to enable people to stand but to ensure they can have their desk at the perfect ergonomic height for them. After months of home-working, people will be craving good ergonomic furniture.

According to our poll 61% of people have missed the ergonomic set-up offered by the desk environment.

Ergonomic office desk fit out

Refreshment areas

Everyone loves sharing food together. Whether it’s a simple tea point, an informal café, a staff restaurant or a company bar, the ability to bring people together to share food and drink will be crucial post-Covid. Everyone has missed the chance to socialise with their colleagues and social capital will need to be replenished – 90 percent of people questioned in our survey had missed the social contact of the office while 46 percent cited the facilities such as the kitchen space and café areas as being something they had missed while working from home.

People need to feel part of the greater whole again and that can be achieved through well-designed refreshment spaces. When people get together to eat, they automatically relax and it can therefore be a place where they think up great ideas or solutions to problems and collaborate informally on work issues. The aesthetic in refreshment areas needs to complement this approach, providing a break and step away from the working environment by a shift in its décor with a more relaxed hospitality style vibe.

Kitchen space and café areas (46%) was missed by office workers working from home.

Office kitchen design

Wellbeing spaces

Areas for gyms and fitness activities were important before lockdown and it’s likely they’ll be even more so now. There will be a greater focus on health and wellbeing in the office than in the past. More than 40 percent of people in our survey wanted to see areas to promote physical activity such as a gym and running track or high stools for standing meetings. But organisations need to be careful how they create these spaces.

A meeting room which doubles as a yoga space, with tables and chairs pushed up against the side of the room, is unlikely to create the right ambiance. Where possible, create a dedicated area or studio which is principally designed for wellbeing to support activities such as yoga, pilates or meditation classes so people can experience the full benefit. Where there isn’t the extra space available, then encourage a culture of wellness throughout the workplace with the use of sit-stand desks – something cited as being important by 20 percent of our respondents – standing meetings or lunch-time walks. Incentivising people to use the stairs rather than the lifts can not only increase fitness but also encourage serendipitous meetings.

Hanging wicker furniture for office wellbeing
Working out in office

The great outdoors

Terraces and gardens have often been the domain of an organisation’s senior leaders, clients or smokers. But post-Covid, there will be an increased focus on using a building’s outdoor spaces to better effect. When asked how they would redesign their office environment for a post-Covid future, 45 percent chose more outdoor areas to benefit from natural light and being outside – the most popular choice. Naturally this is restricted by what the building offers but even the smallest terrace or patio can be used as a work setting.

The key is not to simply install tables and chairs and leave the space to manage itself but to think creatively about what’s needed and how it should be curated. It’s often too hot in the summer to work effectively outside with glare on a laptop screen making computer work difficult. By equipping outdoor areas to be suitable for both meetings and individual work – through installing shelter, power, light, heating and comfortable seating – they can be an effective and morale-boosting extension of the workplace.

Garden in office design
Table and chairs in outdoor office
Skyline view office terrace

Storage space

With offices changing into more activity-based working environments, storage is also adapting. Fewer dedicated desks means fewer pedestals as people won’t need that type of personal storage. Instead, there will be more locker-style storage and more technology around booking lockers. At the same time, many organisations are reducing their requirement for physical filing as documents go online meaning fewer filing cabinets and other devices which are often used to delineate departments and teams.

Instead organisations can use more exciting products such as open shelving, moveable partitions and softer furniture settings to mark out space.

Storage space fit out

Anchor points

Anchor points are feature areas on each floor which encourage people to move around the building and therefore mix with one another. They could be an auditorium on one floor, a huge sofa area with a big AV screen on the wall on another or a staff restaurant on another floor.

They prompt people to move through the building and therefore bump into one another, integrating the community and reinforcing that sense of social capital which has been missing for the past year. These areas will become even more of a focal point in the post-pandemic world.

Breakout space with bean bags

Empty space

It’s easy to focus on the meeting rooms and furniture and to forget about the importance of empty space such as walkways and staircases. These are the places where people bump into colleagues and visitors that they might not usually meet.

While dedicated collaboration areas are great for planned collaboration, well-designed empty spaces are perfect for meeting people you don’t usually see. That might be a senior executive or someone from another part of the business. Just over a third of people (35%) in our poll missed the ability to have impromptu bump and meet opportunities with other people in their organisation.

Subliminal design touches such as adjacent casual one-to-one seating or even the location of key areas such as supporting tea points and coffee bars around these areas can help to support and encourage these interactions.

Important empty space office design

For most organisations, the post-pandemic workplace is an evolution of what’s come before, not a complete departure. But with many people coming back to the workplace after an absence of a year or more, there will need to be an element of education in how to use spaces.

When introducing activity-based or flexible working, organisations typically published etiquette guides helping to understand how to use the space effectively. That type of communication and support will be essential now to help people get the best out of every work setting in the post-pandemic workplace.

Breakout area shelving
Woman working in front of glazed meeting room