Workplace 3.0: Five workplace design trends that will shape the office of the future

The prolonged pandemic has accelerated a change in mindset for many organisations on the role of the workplace, permanently impacting the way we work.

08 Feb 2022

By Sebastian Mann

Workplace 3.0: Five workplace design trends that will shape the office of the future
The ‘future of work’ has been an ongoing topic of conversation for many years as companies seek to adapt to the latest trends and opportunities in order to drive productivity and growth, and attract talent. However, the onset of Covid-19 has amplified the discussion around what the future of work entails. In our view, a new era of ‘work’ has arrived, earlier than expected.

There’s no denying that employees can work productively regardless of where they are; that being said, because of the global uncertainty that permeated throughout 2020 and 2021, what we have seen is a growing appetite for remote work, coupled with a surge in companies adopting more flexible and hybrid working environments as part of their long-term real estate strategy. As the world starts to get back on its feet and offices open up again, the ‘workplace’ is becoming an increasingly malleable concept!

As identified in our recent 2022 Asia Pacific Real Estate Market Outlook, the prolonged pandemic has spurred and accelerated a change in mindset for many organisations on the role of the workplace, permanently impacting the way we work, and expectations of the workplace experience. We have seen companies in Asia Pacific starting to look at initiatives to support balanced work styles. This has resulted in significant shifts in space allocation as they 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. Consequently, we will see a rise in flexible workplace design that is more dynamic, versatile, attractive, and engaging, than ever before. Here are the key post-pandemic workplace design trends that will shape an innovative workplace for the future:

1. The workplace environment will be re-imagined for the hybrid workforce

With remote working here to stay, successful workplace design must balance the shift towards flexible working and consider how in-office collaborative and focused workspaces are designed and managed to accommodate hybrid ways of working. With most organisations considering significant shifts in space allocation, the workplace environment – whether traditional, activity-based, team-based or event-based – will be re-imagined, 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

Love or hate it, the work-from-home lifestyle is certainly one that most employees have become used to by now. With hybrid work arrangements, coming to work is not necessarily a need for some, but a choice. Yet, despite the comfort of remote working, some employees have been working in silos and experiencing a sense of disconnection. We see how challenging it has become for new joiners in terms of settling in, cultivating the company culture, adapting to changes without a support network, and integrating with their team. These factors have the potential to impact communication and productivity. For business leaders to tilt employee choice in favour of coming to the office, organisations are starting to appreciate the value of an office environment that brings people together; the office as a destination. Just as the 9-to-5 is being replaced by flexible schedules, stuffy cubicles and traditional layouts are making way for ‘cosy’ and ‘home’-inspired workplaces. 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 to the office, and how to further foster office culture and productivity.

Indeed, finding our ‘tribe’ at work provides us with that needed boost of motivation, and opportunities for meaningful interactions and collaborations within the workplace paves the way for better engagement and synergy among employees. Hence, open plan offices will change, switching from traditional space allocations towards unassigned and collaborative designations. As employees crave team connection and community, this will accelerate the trend towards more collaborative space allocation as they return to the office.

3. The ‘hotelification’ of the workplace

A hospitality-inspired design approach helps enable positive human interactions within the workplace, ensuring moments of social interactions and connections that were missed during the ‘work-from-home’ experience. To further attract employees back to the office, the workplace will need to offer curated experiences, with amenities that focus on creating a warm and welcoming environment supported by intuitive concierge technologies, to improve tenant engagement and well-being. We will start to see increased levels of hospitality combined with physical space that promote unhindered thinking and maximum collaboration.

4. Healthy building design comes to the fore

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, reviewing this based on employees working on and off-site.

5. 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.

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

The conceptualisation of CBRE’s proprietary design and build product, Office Ready, has also incorporated the five 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.

With Office Ready Singapore’s thoughtful pre-built design palettes, we carefully chose the use of materials with low emitting Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) to reduce employees’ exposure to harmful toxins, as well as materials that are recycled and renewable to minimise the impact on the environment, and also with anti-microbial properties for health and safety. We also thought about employee comfort, providing ergonomic seating and height-adjustable workstations to promote movement and allow employees to customise their workspace to suit their individual needs.

To support mindful habits, we incorporated a variety of space types from focus rooms to community cafes to allow for privacy and meaningful social interaction, empowering employees with choice over their work environment and improving their performance. To positively impact mood and stimulate productivity, our designs allow for abundant exposure to natural daylighting, and we have meticulously curated glare-reducing lighting fixtures, individual task lighting and light levels with higher Colour Rendering Index (CRI).

Our Office Ready designs also include pre-determined safe work settings, with hands-free door access features, mobile rail screening options for privacy, work surfaces and upholstery that make deep cleaning and sanitation easy, as well as in-built modularity to allow for worry-free distancing and flexibility. For our innovations within this product, 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

As we find ourselves in the throes of The Great Resignation across the globe, this is an opportune time to re-think our strategies for talent attraction and retention. 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.

The views and opinions in these articles belong to the author and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of CBRE. Our employees are obliged not to make any defamatory clauses, infringe or authorize infringement of any legal rights. Therefore, the company will not be responsible for or be liable for any damages or other liabilities arising from such statements included in the articles.