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Top Office Design Trends in 2021

Every year we share an article on what our team of designers and workplace experts consider to be the main office design trends for the coming year. It’s usually a lively conversation that transcends our London office into the local Islington cafes and bars. This year is far different with discussions taking place over Zoom. In this Office Design Trends 2021 report, we cover 7 key trends:

  1. Hybrid working and the impact on office design
  2. Downsizing to work closer to the office
  3. A drive for office refurbishment and space optimisation
  4. Wellbeing and the rise of the collective workspace
  5. Seamless technology integration
  6. Burolandschaft for the 21st Century
  7. The sustainable workplace

1. Hybrid working and the impact on office design

The establishment of a hybrid working model across sectors is perhaps the most wide-reaching office trend of 2021, and arguably one that will remain for the years to come. In fact, a recent UK ONS survey has shown as many as 85% of the UK workforce favour hybrid working (some days at the office and others working remotely). Similarly, around 55% of employers in the UK expect their staff to work at home or remotely at least part of the week.

In previous years, our focus has centred on how we can make the physical workplace a better place to work but this year, we will take a more holistic view and look at the changing nature of work and how this in our opinion will influence office design and the workplace in a broader sense.

In this, the strangest of years, unsurprisingly our collective thoughts around office design trends for 2021 tended to focus on how workplaces will adapt to a post-Covid environment and the perceived desire for a more blended way of working embracing a mix of home and office working. With that in mind, let’s start with the physical scale, size and location of offices.

2. Downsizing to be closer to the workforce

The office is one of the major cost centres for any organisation, and it should come as no surprise that with the vast majority of companies forced to embrace home working, and many finding that it has no tangible business impact, that it has led to many questioning the logic of renting large space inexpensive city-centre locations.

Firstly, as more and more companies look set to adopt blended working whereby staff work from home 2-3 days a week and the office for the remainder, they begin to realise that they do not need a space to accommodate all staff, all of the time and consequently that they can easily manage in a space that is 30-40% smaller. Our team envisage many companies auditing their space requirements and beginning conversations with landlords and agents around their new requirements.

This process will we believe also trigger a realisation that where the office is located is less critical, and that really being close to the workforce is a key consideration, not the postcode. Jed Walentas from Two Trees Management located in New York summed it up nicely in an article with Architect Magazine:

“If you got two and a half million people in Brooklyn, why is it rational or efficient for all those people to schlep into Manhattan and work every day?” he asked in a New York Times interview. “That’s how we used to do it yesterday. It’s not rational now.”

3. A drive for Office Refurbishment + Space Optimisation

Our team of experts felt that while many companies will look to downsize and potentially move location, there will be a significant number who will concentrate efforts on adapting their existing spaces to de-densify what was traditionally open-plan workspaces, and recreate the workplace to reflect the new reality of work.

Companies will strive to create spaces that attract employees back to the office and at least in the short term, facilitate physical distancing and ensure that the workplace is a safe environment. Again, this should fuel increased demand for office designers to adapt the layout and to optimise spaces with employees in mind. A recent article in Work Design magazine entitled ‘Offices for Healthy Living’ sums it up nicely by companies must place a greater emphasis on the quality of space rather than quantity in 2021.

There may also be instances where companies as tenants look to sublet what is now excess space, essentially partitioning off what they need and putting the ‘to-let’ sign up for the rest. If this transpires, it will inevitably lead to an increase in demand for office refurbishment services as companies look to optimise existing space or indeed, smaller spaces that they have just moved to (perhaps as a sub-tenant).

4. A Renewed Focus on Wellbeing

The Need for Human Connection brings about the rise of the ‘collective workplace#. Designing for employee wellbeing is far from being a new trend but now more than ever, it is firmly at the top of the agenda when it comes to designing a new workplace or refurbishing an existing space. The primary reason for this increased spotlight on designing spaces for people is down to the fact that during the lockdown, we all came to a realisation that as human beings, we desire and crave human connection and interaction. And while digital has enabled us to engage and to stay in touch, it can never replicate the physical interaction upon which we build relationships and forge bonds with work colleagues.

Therein lies the challenge for office designers – to create spaces with well-being at their core, that provide the absolute fundamentals in so far as providing optimal natural light, fresh air, a choice of workspaces where staff can collaborate, concentrate or relax etc. and that also harness and fulfil that inert need for human connection and community. While culture and dynamics can play a major role here, providing a space that allows people to interact easily, be it on an individual level or as part of a team is paramount.

From a design perspective, this can translate to incorporating dedicated spaces designed to encourage and foster increased interaction – think resimercial design where elements of the home such as soft furnishings are blended into office design, and having couches and soft seating ideal for those cosy catch-ups and chats. Of course, there is much more to this topic and if interested, you can read our dedicated article on Designing Wellbeing into the Workplace.

5. Seamless Technology Integration

As blended home/office working becomes the norm during 2021 and beyond, there will, we believe be a major emphasis on both workplaces and home workers having access to the tool and software that make the interaction between the office-based and home workers a seamless, stress-free one.

Think about how many times a video call has had to be abandoned due to poor connection on someone’s end, or screen sharing not working as it should do. This is lost productivity and as teams continue to work together on projects and tasks, technology needs to enable this, and by this we mean the inclusion of high tech meeting rooms with video conferencing facilities that can be understood and enabled by team members, not just skilled IT personnel, interactive whiteboards and smart technology which enables an improved collaborative experience. We are not technology experts but it’s worth searching online for office technology trends to really understand what is possible and what is being developed – it is truly astounding.

There are also practical considerations as there will be an increased demand for small spaces or pods to facilitate individual video conference calls in private, so expect to see more small meeting rooms equipped with screens to enable this.

Seamless Technology Intergration

6. Burolandschaft for the 21st Century

The layout of the workplace will, we predict, shift away from linear lines and rows of open plan desking and revert back to team clusters or neighbourhoods equipped with dedicated, set rooms, spaces and resources for that specific team or group.

It’s essentially a move back towards what was termed Burolandschaft, a German concept, which translates to ‘office landscape’, which became popular in northern Europe in the 1960s. It advocated a less rigid approach to office layouts and placed far more importance on meeting the needs of the workforce. As a result, the workplace became a more open space with desks and teams grouped together – you can learn more about the evolution and history of office design by clicking here to read an article we penned a few years ago.

In practical terms, teams will have access to an office within an office, their own pod within a wider workplace environment and which is configurable to meet their own requirements. We’d envisage touchdown spaces, collaborative spaces, meeting rooms and pods but with team members also having access to shared breakout and larger bookable, meeting spaces.

A key driver here is in the short term to create small work pods for Covid related reasons, but also to maximise productivity and to foster a renewed sense of community following 12+ months of almost solitary home working.

7. The Sustainable Workplace

Sustainability and how our individual actions and behaviours collectively impact our planet and environment is now far better understood and prevalent in mainstream discussion with major efforts and campaigns underway to impact positive change. The workplace is no different and today, employers need to reflect their employee’s desire to be more sustainable and to align with their ethical/moral values – the vast majority of people don’t want to work for a company deemed to be unethical or that has a negative environmental impact.

Organisations are working to reduce their carbon footprints and as part of this, seek to design and build more sustainable workplaces. There are numerous considerations when creating a workplace with sustainability in mind. Most obviously, the selection of materials and sourcing of products to ensure only materials, furniture and fixtures with acceptable sustainable attributes are chosen. Designers need to work with clients to discern the circularity of materials used to manufacture everything from chairs and desks to meeting tables and artwork, and also the origin of the products with local UK products of course decreasing any environmental impact from transportation and delivery.