Returning to an office designed for the future: Essential workplace design trends to suit a hybrid workforce
By Sebastian Mann, Executive Director & Head of Design, APAC, CBRE Design Collective
junio 14, 2022
With Asia Pacific on the road to recovery from the pandemic and markets continue to open up, CBRE’s newly launched 2022 Asia Pacific Occupier Survey shares timely and illuminating insights on the key priorities and concerns for office occupiers in the region. The shift to the new post-pandemic way of working is underway, with 60% of survey respondents indicating their preference for hybrid working, ranging from an equal mix of office and remote working (28%), mostly office (24%), and mostly/fully remote (5%).
This is driving significant shifts in space allocation as companies embrace flexible and hybrid options, providing employees with more choice as to where they carry out their work; whether at the office, at home, or another space that is conducive to work/life balance and productivity. Therefore, a well-executed hybrid workplace strategy and an effectively designed workplace have become key to the way in which companies are planning for the future, and provide a key competitive advantage for those focused on attracting talent in the marketplace.
The physical design of the workplace will continue to evolve and adapt to the changing landscape in response to changes in space utilisation. Here are some ideas for how that space will evolve:
1. The workplace environment will be re-imagined for the hybrid workforce
As seen in the survey findings, activity-based working will become the new norm, with a fine balance between “Me” and “We” Space. With the adoption of hybrid working allowing more focused work to be performed remotely, the office will increasingly become a location for discussion and collaboration. In-office collaborative and focused workspaces will be designed and managed to accommodate hybrid ways of working, with new workspace settings, depending on varying performance and operating requirements, shining a spotlight on creativity, connection and community. In this way, workplace interior design can shape workplace behaviour, shifting incidental collaboration to purposeful collaboration that stimulates employees to create a more ‘effective’ workforce.
2. The office as an attractor and cultural hub
As the adoption of hybrid working tends to lead to focused work or back-office functions being performed remotely, the office will become a location for discussion, interaction and collaboration, as seen in our survey findings. Organisations are starting to appreciate the value of an office environment that brings people together; the office as a destination. Office design will be re-imagined to create unique experiences to form a cultural hub for employees, housing a multitude of interconnected and collaborative workspaces, with enhanced amenities and stylised work settings. Office design will be challenged by how exciting, interactive, and engaging the workplace is to successfully entice employees back, and how to foster office culture and productivity. Open plan offices will change, switching from traditional space allocations towards unassigned and collaborative designations. We have seen in the survey that in the case of "We" space, respondents identified collaborative space for unscheduled catch-ups and communal space for socialising as the two types of space where they expect demand to increase. In contrast, larger spaces for formal meetings are likely to see weaker demand as more meetings adopt a hybrid format involving smaller groups in the office being joined by multiple individuals dialing in from other locations. As employees crave team connection and community, this will accelerate the trend towards more collaborative space allocation as they return to the office.
3. Healthy building design comes to the fore
The survey finds that the demand for human features primarily centres on wellness, sustainability and community. Landlords must enhance indoor air quality and incorporate green building features and operations to meet occupiers' requirements for a healthier work environment. Sensors to monitor air quality will also be keenly sought-after as lingering pandemic-related concerns prompt companies to improve air ventilation and filtration in the workplace. As such, healthy building design has now taken centre stage, with office design becoming more wellness and health orientated. High standards of sustainable design will be expected for worker health, sentiment and productivity, with consideration given to air quality, thermal and acoustic comfort, and access to natural daylight. A push for sustainability is an increasingly attractive differentiator for organisations that want to take care of their people, and at the same time highlight a need for social responsibility, and accountability around the condition of the environment.
An emphasis on occupant health has forced us to reconsider the impacts of our energy consumption, and the overall longevity and resilience of buildings in the long term. CBRE is shining a spotlight on sustainability as a key focus for the office sector and workplace design. To do this, we are interpreting the data during the pandemic period to help our clients understand ways to improve their carbon footprint, through lowering operational emissions and consumption, and reviewing this based on employees working on and off-site.
4. Greater demand for safety within the workplace, and smart and touchless technology
With workplace safety and hygiene becoming a key priority, employees will demand more ‘elbow room’ and contactless interactions. Beyond requirements for physical distancing, workstations and conference rooms will continue to be reconfigured to allow for greater separation between employees, and there will be an increase in deployment of touchless technology. This bears a positive impact on the physical and mental wellbeing of employees by helping them feel secure and safe, reducing their stress levels at work.
5. Crafting a robust return-to-office strategy
Bearing these trends in mind, we recently devised a ‘return-to-office’ strategy as well as design for Finastra Ltd in India, a financial software company headquartered in London. Finastra wanted to downsize their occupancy and introduce hybrid work modules, with 40% of their space designed for agile seating as part of their post-pandemic strategy. We focused on creating central social hubs and collaboration spaces, and re-imagined employee engagement areas by proposing interactive walls and recreational spaces with various games and activities available to enhance teamwork and collaboration.
To allow flexibility within the space to accommodate hybrid work, we planned for configurable meeting spaces that can be turned into war rooms integrated with latest AV technology for remote meeting set-ups; flexible work desks that can be arranged in multiple ways; and flexible modular seating in collaborative areas for different types of meetings.
To uplift the mood of employees, the outdoor terrace space was converted into an exclusive fine dining area, while a full-fledged acoustically treated music studio within the office was designed to encourage employees to play their own music and perform recreationally to relax. Biophilia and green walls were installed to improve indoor air quality, while the provision of sick bays and meditation rooms help employees attain solace within the workplace and seek respite.
‘Office Ready’ – Wellness and sustainability-focused design
CBRE’s proprietary design and build product, Office Ready, also incorporates the design trends above. We developed Office Ready with employee safety, wellness and sustainability in mind, with special consideration to the materiality, acoustics, lighting, ergonomics, and placing a balanced focus on personal space alongside shared space. Office Ready is a design-led, fast-track, off-the-shelf design and build solution for small to mid-size office spaces, removing the complexity of office build-outs by facilitating quicker and more cost-effective delivery, while still ensuring that the office would remain high-quality, high-functioning and move-in-ready. However, unlocking maximum value from a project does not mean a corresponding reduction in quality and safety, as we focus on placing employee well-being and sustainability at the forefront of all the Office Ready designs. For our innovations, Office Ready was recently awarded the Global Innovator Award from CoreNet Global, the world’s premier association for corporate real estate professionals, economic developers and service providers.
Workplace design as a key differentiator
Thoughtful and intelligent workplace design is a key differentiator that reinforces brand identity and culture in the office, and facilitates stronger connections with people. A clear workplace strategy and an engaging design will go a long way in helping employees to feel engaged and prioritised, which will become a clear focus for any organisation that strongly commits to employee wellbeing and providing an environment for people to thrive, become more agile, innovate faster and achieve greater results.
About CBRE Design Collective
CBRE Design Collective comprises a regional team of passionate creatives who are part of a global design network of over 300 designers. Our team is a diverse group of talented individuals, with unique backgrounds in architecture, design and technology, who are client focused and driven to make a positive impact to the workplace experience through great design. As experiential designers, we place human experience at the centre of our design process. As a global design community, we are connected and integrated to all CBRE service lines enabling us to provide frictionless, globally consistent, cost-efficient creative and technical design solutions. CBRE Design is part of the APAC Advisory Project Management business line. To help our clients navigate through these unprecedented challenges, our CBRE Design Team has leveraged in-house experts in design, workplace strategy, occupancy management, project and facilities management, utilising data from over 2.7 billion sq ft of commercial space to deliver engaging, user-centric workplaces, that spark imagination and create a sense of community, to motivate and enhance people’s overall experience.