Office Design Trends 2021

Every year, we share an article on what our team of designers and workplace experts believe will be the main office design trends for the coming year will be. It’s usually a lively conversation which transcends the office into the local Islington cafes and bars but this year is far different, and our discussion takes place over Zoom.

Before we look at 2021, you can also read our office design trends predictions from previous years below:

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, lets start with the physical scale, size and location of offices.

Office Design Trend #1: 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 in expensive 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.”

Office Design Trend #2: 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 to 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, facilitates physical distancing and ensures that the workplace is a safe environment. Again, this should fuel an increased demand for office designers to adapt 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).

Office Design Trend #3: A Renewed Focus on Wellbeing, The Need for Human Connection and 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 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 wellbeing 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 resimerical 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.

Office Design Trend #4: 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 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 screensharing 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 its 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.

Office Design Trend #5: 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 1960’s. 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 productive and to foster a renewed sense of community following 12+ months of almost solitary home working.

Office Design Trend #6: 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 employees 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.

There are a variety of sustainable accreditations which companies can choose to work towards when designing and fitting out a new space including SKA, BREEAM or LEED which provide a detailed framework which are designed to assess the sustainability of a space or building, and from an office design perspective are excellent to ensure all bases are covered.

There are also simple changes that can have an impact such as removing single use plastics, maximising natural light to decrease energy usage and where lighting is required, use sustainable LED lighting. Companies can also encourage sustainable practises such as cycling to work by incorporating shower facilities, bike storage and lockers for staff within the workplace – this is something we have wrote about at length in the past, click here for a more in depth read.

We anticipate a marked increase in design and build projects aiming for high sustainable accreditations during 2021 and beyond, as companies seek to become more sustainable and to market themselves as such.

2020 was a year like no other but we are hopeful that 2021 will be a brighter year for us all as we return to the physical workplace and start to shape the new workplace and ways of working for 2021 and beyond. It’s an exciting time even within the constant flux and change and it will be interesting to see just how accurate our crystal ball has been when we look back in 12+ months times.


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