Adaptable Workspaces: Rethinking the Meaning of Work

Over the last two years, offices have had to evaluate and revise their approach based on changing conditions, attitudes and regulations, and as such, have had to reassess the meaning of work. As parts of the world move back into shared office space it becomes clear that there is no way of going back to a pre-Covid normative. The way we perceive the paradigm of work has changed.

To understand the workplace of the future we asked ourselves, what are the biggest shifts in perception of work and how can our workplaces of the future adapt to those changes? While the idea of the office as a primary workspace is somewhat engrained in the thinking of many industries, the global shift in attitudes to work cannot be denied. Having experienced the comfort and time-win of working from home and the freedom of being able to work from anywhere, we now start to synchronise our working location to best suit the tasks we have on our schedules.

This has occurred at the same time as new generations are revisiting and questioning the system of a 40-hour workweek in a late-capitalist society, where stress, a sedentary lifestyle and overconsumption fuel the need for more conscious, efficient and future-proof workspaces and jobs. As a result, people are now seeking more flexible, healthy and meaningful work that aligns with their needs and enables them to live healthy and fulfilled lives.

While the aftermath of 1.5 years of working from home is likely to unfold itself gradually over the coming year(s), these insights do outline the first conclusions regarding which strategic approach we should take to shape the future of workspaces. More precisely, how we can shape work for people who have found new routines and habits that promise them a healthier way of working.

Towards Human-centric Work

In an attempt to navigate through this new reality, between health regulations, employee needs and technical requirements, we now see companies experimenting with new approaches: from management styles and tools, to implementing new software and hardware, to addressing the organisation of home and office spaces.

To allow teams and individuals to thrive in this new reality, we need to take a closer look at people’s experiences, their values and their personal and collective goals. We need a truly human-centric approach to work that thoughtfully considers how these new processes, spaces and tools meet the expectations of the employees. The human-centric workplace means that we need to account for all needs, both in the digital and physical realms.

Beyond 'One Size Fits All'

We are currently observing new ways of organising workloads and locations in relation to tasks that is prompting offices to attune to these new habits. Instead of fixed set-ups, new offices require fluid solutions that can be changed almost on a daily basis, depending on the number of people physically present and those online, alongside the type of collaboration and team working styles.

Designers and manufactures need to offer toolboxes that enable the personalisation of spatial experiences for different hybrid modes of working – from online meetings to quick calls and from large team brainstorms on digital white boards, to client meetings, community building activities and water cooler moments. The spatial solutions and the processes behind these solutions should empower employees to take the lead in shaping their spaces and should result from experimenting with multiple arrangements to find the ones that best fit their culture and needs. 

Blended Spaces

One of the key steps in creating this new reality is to rethink office buildings at large. While repurposing some of them on a global scale is one possible long-term scenario in real estate terms, we need to think on the scale of the interior in order to make quick adaptations that can respond to new working requirements. It is time to abandon the idea of an activity-based workspace, which implies that a single space should only hold one function.

With an ambiguous future ahead, we need to start strategically blending functions to maximise flexibility and enable a range of activities: from collaboration and client engagement to knowledge sharing, and from focussed work to socialising, and everything in between.

Spaces for Digital Sharing 

In the hybrid office, the digital infrastructure can no longer be an afterthought; spaces need to be designed for flexible digital connectivity. At the same time, we need to consider the impact of new ways of working on health. Most of us have experienced the screen overload and issues related to poor acoustics in open office spaces.

To provide healthy workspaces, the interior design needs to consider the presence of multiple phones, laptops and cameras in the room, as well as the constant movement of such hardware. As technology advances rapidly, we also need to start preparing for the near-future development of these technologies, including voice interfaces, AI and VR in physical spaces. The more adaptable the space, processes and digital infrastructure, the easier it will be to transition from present to near future.

Technology-enabled Flexibility

One of the most significant opportunities that lie ahead in terms of technological advancement is the creation of workspaces that help individuals and teams to thrive. With the use of interconnected technologies, offices and work-oriented services could be more responsive to changing needs. By applying knowledge and data on working patterns and lifestyles, we could match the evolving teams, thus helping them to exceed in their tasks. From on-demand workspaces, to personalised environments and more varied working hours, technology could enable a major shift towards inclusive and healthy workspaces.

Strategic Products for the Flexible Office

With the aim of creating sensor-based environments that respond, learn and adjust to people’s daily activities, UNStudio and Delta Light created Soliscape, a toolbox  of flexible components that can be  used to create ‘lightscapes’ that respond to their user’s ever-changing needs and activities. Knowing that light, sound, scent, air quality and temperature have a significant effect on our health, we designed Soliscape to enable healthier workspaces. The system uses sensors to determine the optimal lighting and acoustic conditions for users and adjusts the settings to best suit their needs.

Node+ is a structured range of padded pieces, backrests, dividers and accessories that can be used to design micro-architectural systems that provide the space for relaxation, work, privacy and socialising. Our goal was to design an adaptable furniture system that responds to changing requirements over the course of the day. An in-depth study of user needs resulted in a concept where the functionalities of privacy and socialising merge into a system with fixed and loose elements that easily blends into homes, offices and hospitality environments.