As we hopefully reach the end of the socially responsible confinement, working from home has never seen better appreciation than now. Home offices have existed for decades, but to a much lesser degree before this pandemic. The benefits of working-from-home became evident quite early on, but will this be a long term and sustainable strategy?. It seems the likely desire of many to trek back into the office, but remote-work will remain prevalent for the foreseeable future. One certain key point is that office design and layout will transform in the near future.

Multiple questions have been raised on how spaces will be configured once we return to the office. For one, how will we be able to return to a normal routine which we previously took for granted, working closely with our colleagues, regularly congregating in small tight conference rooms or even the casual chats around the water-cooler?

Some of the most contentious adaptations to new work ethics that seem unavoidable will be coming from employees, managers and business owners, and even the developers who are responsible for enabling a new era in ways of interacting with one another in our workspace.

How then will our new work environment be different from before? Here are some initial design considerations for new office buildings:

● Wider corridors with one-way foot traffic
● Better air filtration
● Touchless elevator controls
● Antimicrobial materials in new construction
● More advanced communication tools
● Videoconferencing within the office to avoid gatherings in the conference room
● More durable finishes due to increased cleaning

Within each office, we will further need to employ measures to continue preventing the spread of the Virus, until a vaccine is found at least. Our day-to-day interactions will be different and include an array of new ‘rituals’ so that we do not put ourselves or our colleagues at greater risks. Social distancing will need to continue, even within the workspace. Here are a few temporary measures that can be implemented immediately:
• Usage of every other desk in benching arrangements – leaving one desk free between employees.
• Re-introduction of partitions – not unlike the ’70s and 80’s desk dividers.
• Banning hot-desking, as sharing any work surface, increases the risk of infection. We might not see coworking studios anymore, but new work practices such as part-time between the office and home. Perhaps dividing the workforce in half.Half the office can come in on Monday and Wednesday, and the other half can come in on Tuesday and Thursday.
• Fewer physical meetings, but mostly online VCs. We foresee staff having to interact regularly with outside groups or peers, to communicate and
meet via Video Conferencing which has already been proven more efficient and less time consuming than physical meetings. Headsets and cameras can be installed at every desk. In fact even within an office communication will be less by physical movement heading to someone’s desk, but rather through video calls. Telephones on each desk may also see its end as well.
• Office Buildings as Conference Centers. Video conferencing works well, and this has been evident, especially over the last two months. We have come to realize the ease of working remotely in isolation and being in constant communication with our teams. Work is efficient, and the need to physically meet less necessary. As a result, Corporate HQ’s might still be the symbol of a company, but for different usage. Offices may become spaces for special gatherings rather than day-to-day work. The open-plan office concept will become more spaced out and flexible in its design functionalities.
• In the long term, we will see a decrease in full-time staff numbers and a general movement towards outsourcing. Freelancers can take over a larger pool of the workload, eventually reducing the sizes of office spaces. New corporate HQ will then become minimized to optimal size carrying only a minimum of frontline office workers.
Overall, technology will play a key role in our new environments, how we interact, and the way we conduct business. Distancing will promote the creation of smart office technologies that cater to suitable interactions between employees and their workspace. Automation, voice activation, and contactless systems will necessarily ensue. Indeed what is interesting and even more exciting is the imminent rush for the development of such new technologies to support our changed behaviors in or out of office spaces. Ironically, organizations such as We-work had used technology to bring people together in more flexible and communal spaces. Now the same systems need to pull us apart.

About the Author:
Martin Dufresne, graduated from the acclaimed Azrieli School of Architecture and Urbanism in Canada in the mid-90s before relocating to South East Asia, where he attained his design knowledge on a large scale with HOK Asia Pacific in Hong Kong. Martin also worked in Singapore for three years as Senior Design Architect with award-winning Kerry Hill Architects. After moving to Dubai in 2005, his work has since matured in multi-disciplined on a variety of building types. Throughout his career Martin’s design has been instrumental in attracting highly regarded clients expecting only the most exceptional quality development with an international elegance. He has worked closely and directly with prestigious clients such as Hines US, IBM, PRC, Telecom PRC, China Telecom PRC, Centrair Japan, Aman Resorts Singapore, GHM Hotels, Beaufort Group, HK and Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Company to name a few.