The first half of 2021 saw the return, albeit slow, of employees to offices and the realisation for many that they craved interaction with their colleagues, to collaborate with, bounce ideas off or simply talk to.
The surge of the Covid-19 Omicron variant towards the end of the year, however, resulted in many companies delaying their return-to-office plans indefinitely.
What has quickly become clear is that office spaces need to change to accommodate a workforce that is wary of crowded spaces, more aware of health precautions and accustomed to online interactions from the comfort of their own homes.
In this post-pandemic world, with many buildings standing empty or only partly filled, what trends can we expect to see in office spaces that will draw people back and ensure maximum occupancy in in offices?
“Flexibility is key and, while it has always been around in varying degrees, it is now a primary consideration,” says Maggie Weber, head of design at Tétris South Africa. “A hybrid working model is emerging as a favourable choice for many organisations, offering flexible solutions for when, where and how staff can work.”
Here are some of the key design trends Weber believes we’ll be seeing in office spaces this year.
It’s the year of the employee and employee-driven design choices will be the main design trend of the year.
“With people now accustomed to the creature comforts of working from home, companies will be incorporating softer, cosier elements into the office space to encourage employees to return to the office,” says Weber.
Plush carpeting and plenty of comfortable seating creates a space where people can work in comfort, be inspired, and meet with others to share ideas.
Warm lighting and materials such as velvet, wool and fleece will become increasingly popular as they are helpful for those with sensory issues around light and texture, while inclusive, mindful design is key to accommodate neurodiversity while providing stimulating and rewarding workspaces.
Buildings that offer more than just a place to work will succeed in attracting occupiers. Spaces dedicated to activities other than working, such as relaxation rooms, rooftop gardens and sitting areas where people can socialise will become more popular.
“We are creating a home away from home in the office in a way we have not experienced or needed before.”
Safety and wellness
The pandemic has put a spotlight on health and wellness in the workplace. Some of the post-pandemic safety measures being included in modern offices are smart technology devices such as UV lights in lifts to cleanse the booth and energy-efficient HVAC systems with UV lamps to cleanse the circulating air.
“A safe, clean and hygienic environment will reassure people coming back into the office,” says Weber.
A greater need for distanced workstations and fewer desks has meant a rise in multifunctional work areas that make efficient use of space. “Modular furniture is great here, with its ability to be reconfigured to accommodate a variety of tasks and employee needs.”
Hybrid working is a growing trend, with a JLL study showing that 63% of the workforce want to work in this style in the future. A hybrid working model allows for fewer desks shared by workers as they alternate working from home and the office.
When coming into the office, employees can choose a workspace or meeting room to match the way they work or the task they have planned for that day, for example they may need a meeting room for collaborative work or a quiet room for focus and concentration.
Green design and biophilia are already big trends, but in 2022 we will start seeing even more natural elements make their way into office spaces.
Apart from the aesthetic appeal, greenery and nature-inspired designs can have a positive impact on people’s wellbeing. A study by Interface titled The Human Spaces report into The Global Impact of Biophilic Design in the Workplace showed that workers in offices with natural elements had a 15% higher level of wellbeing, were 6 percent more productive and 15% more creative.
Shifting away from the clinical greys typical of office buildings, softer greens, light browns and muted blues will be used, along with biophilic elements to remind people of nature, including timbers and rattans, indoor plants, water fountains and furniture in organic, rounded shapes.
Corporate and environmental sustainability
The commitment to green design goes beyond biophilic design, however. Employees increasingly want to know where their office furniture comes from, how it was procured and whether other materials used in the creation of their office space were sustainably produced and ethically sourced.
Climate risk is now accepted as a financial risk, according to JLL’s global survey Responsible Real Estate – Decarbonizing the Built Environment, and real estate has a critical role in fulfilling enterprise sustainability commitments.
One of the solutions being looked at globally is retrofitting legacy buildings to improve their efficiency and emit less carbon. This is a critical step towards a net-zero carbon future as old buildings are responsible for a large portion of the world’s energy consumption.
“By reusing the buildings that we already have and incorporating sustainable office fit outs, we can make them work harder and more cost-effectively. To drive this kind of sustainable thinking in all JLL and Tétris projects, we launched our Sustainability Code, a methodology accessed through an app that ensures projects move through sustainable intent and concepts to sustainability delivered,” shares Weber.
In 2022, sustainability in the workplace is about more than just green design. It is also about meaningful social and corporate governance goals.
“Social responsibility is a major theme in 2022 and involves giving back to local communities, creating a circular economy and sourcing locally. It is about humanity and our connection to community, what we call ‘ubuntu’ in South Africa. It is about taking care of ourselves, and of each other.”