After an unexpected period of working from home during the pandemic, companies and employees are beginning to plan for a return to the office. However, things are not going to be the same as they were pre-pandemic. Many companies are opting for a flexible hybrid schedule, leaving the office at lower occupancy when employees are working remotely.
We are also seeing both the comforts of home and safety concerns finding their way into new furniture and layout designs.
Post-Covid Office Design Trends
What exactly can we expect to see as we adjust to office life again?
Post-Covid Office Layout – The Anti-Office
Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, the “anti-office” was one of the rising workplace design trends. This focuses on an open floor plan, moving away from the segregation of cubicles and fostering a laid-back and collaborative atmosphere. Shifting back to more separation may serve to alleviate concerns about health and safety in the office, but will rob employees of the social interaction that is a key part of office culture.
Instead, many companies are opting to stick with the “anti-office” layout but to offer additional features focused on employee wellness.
Highlights of the Anti-Office
Automated Systems and Self Cleaning Surfaces
Automated systems, such as doors and faucets, cut down on the possible transfer of germs by eliminating the need to touch these surfaces.
Some of these office features can also be made to be “self-cleaning”. Self-cleaning surfaces are their own class of materials and are able to remove debris from their surfaces in a few different ways. One company does so by selling skins and decals that can be affixed to touchpoints to turn them into self-cleaning surfaces.
We will also see an increase in the implementation of antimicrobial surfaces. Besides naturally antimicrobial silver and copper, wood and natural stones have been shown to assist with antimicrobial growth.
The inclusion of wood and stone as natural elements serves to make the space feel calming for employees as well. The trend of natural features and colour palettes creates a sense of zen, aiding in mental health in addition to physical health.
Natural Light and Plants
Increased natural light and the introduction of plants are pre-COVID trends that remain, as they aid in sustaining employee’s mental health.
Some of the ways these elements are incorporated into workplaces are living plant walls, glass doors, and partitions that let in more light.
Greenery helps to improve airflow, and living walls also function as acoustic panelling, which absorbs sound to eliminate distractions and improve worker productivity. Not only are they beautiful, but functional as well!
Touchdown Office Spaces
For those who are championing a more flexible return to the office strategy, it is predicted that the workplace should expect a 50% decrease in occupancy. Offices are adjusting to plan for this lower occupancy by the removal of furniture– to replace personal desks, some are implementing touchdown spaces.
The touchdown space resembles a small conference room or private phone room, where employees have a place to work when they do come into the office, without taking up the space of a personal desk. These spaces will be fully functional and equipped with the necessary furniture and equipment, but not belonging to one person. The idea is that of a more universal workstation in order to eliminate unnecessary furniture and save office space.
Emerging Office Furniture Trends
Picking the Right Fabrics, Textures and Materials
Both safety and comfort needs are being addressed in workplace furniture choices. Taking into account new health concerns after the emergence of COVID-19, it is important that office furniture is easy to clean.
Instead of fabric or metal, vinyl or laminate are better options as they are less porous and the surfaces are easier to clean.
However, in the case of chairs and couches in the office, microfiber is still a great choice, as it is functional and durable, while still easy to take care of.
Check out our upholstery page for more details on getting a piece of furniture reupholstered.
Lightweight furniture and materials are also preferable in the post-COVID workplace because the furniture is easy to move and reconfigure. This comes in handy if the need arises to rearrange the floorplan or to remove the furniture due to lower occupancy. It lends flexibility that heavier furniture would not.
The Home Office at the Office
Employee comfort is being tackled by making the worker feel at home. By bringing these elements of home into the office, employees feel more relaxed and are therefore more productive. The typical employee lounge area has changed in the face of the pandemic, so we are seeing less of the crowded collaborative spaces and cozy couches.
However, workplaces are still paying homage to this by offering soft seating options and multiple locations to complete work. These locations are smaller versions of the pre-pandemic employee lounge, allowing the employee to socialize and collaborate, but now with a smaller group.
We are also seeing a return to cubicles, though these are not the cubicles of the past. Rather, they serve to offer separation in order to keep workers healthy and safe. These workstations rely on shielding with mobile screens or plexiglass for offices where there is not enough space to keep from working in close quarters. Desks are oriented so that employees are not seated facing each other, and these protective screens surround the employee on three sides for maximum protection.
These desks are adjustable as well, so as to provide shielding at all heights. The glass or plexiglass panels also allow for employees to maintain a visual connection while staying protected.
Design and Function are being Considered
More modern and stylish workstations are now emerging to meet these needs. Some of these workstations, for example, are curved instead of squared-off, and tall enough that you can safely stand within them. Offering a variety of color and finish options allows for the furniture to match the vibe of the office and to imbue a bit of personality into the space.
While functional, these chic new options ensure that a company does not have to settle for boring and bland while trying to keep their employees healthy.
Making it Safe and Making it Work
The workplace is changing, as is the way we do our jobs. As more employees return to the office, we are seeing a renewed focus on workplace safety, comfort, and wellness.
Some of the trends that we saw pre-pandemic have lent themselves to this shift, while other, more unexpected needs require us to think outside the box, especially in terms of floor plans and use of space.