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The Future of Offices


The concept of the office as we know it appears to have changed forever: a fate exacerbated by the recent Covid-19 epidemic. Many of us with office-based jobs have successfully worked from home for most of 2020. In the future, according to a recent CIPD survey, employers expect 20% of us will continue to do so whilst 50% of workers expect not to return to the office for a full 5-day working week, liking the idea of a combination of home and office working. Lockdowns have become the catalyst behind one of the biggest shake-ups of how we work that will impact the future design and purpose of offices, speeding up the requirement for sustainable places to work, which promote collaboration and increase well-being.

Why do we need office space at all?

Offices are important: they facilitate collaborative working and allow a separation between work and personal life. A place to entertain clients and demonstrate skills and abilities. Our job is to meet the changing needs of business. A one-size-fits-all, traditional layout with desks and chairs in open plan or cubicles no longer meets the brief, especially with the likelihood of future pandemics.

Yet, the office is the physical heart and soul of a business where workers come together to work - and be seen to work. When team members meet face-to-face, they form relationships with each other and with other teams inside the business. They bounce ideas off each other, inspire and support each other, and share experiences that build bonds. A combination of formal interactions (meetings) and informal (‘water cooler’ moments) provide opportunities to share and critique knowledge and ideas, and build group resilience. If people never meet - or only do so virtually - these relationships may never form and ultimately, the business will suffer.

28% of employees reported increased productivity
37% of employees reported no change to productivity
28% of employees reported reduced productivity (CIPD)

What might the workplace of the future look like?
With workers likely to visit the office less often, it’s clear that the office needs to be an attractive place where employees want to spend their time. This offers a great opportunity to move away from traditional rows of desks and chairs and transform the office into a social destination, with different environments for each phase of work catering for personal working preferences. We believe the office will look and feel like an aspirational, branded venue that employees are proud and happy to visit and once there, enjoy a shared sense of purpose with their peers. This will attract the brightest and best talent to a company.

Upon arrival, your office needs to make a strong first impression about your business, with clear branding to share who you are and what the company stands for. Inside the doors, imagine different ‘spaces’ for the different phases of work made up of team working areas where members simply plug in their laptops and collaboratively work together; quiet spaces filled with bean bags and soft furnishings that provide ‘thinking spaces’; enclosed booths that allow privacy for video conferences with those working away from the office; fun areas, both inside and out, with pool tables and other activities that encourage down time and bonding. In effect, the office will become an attractive community space, with design elements that naturally reinforce a sense of team. Yes, work will be done there but the majority of the computer-focused work can be done from home, keeping the office as the social, community hub.

This is also a fantastic opportunity to enhance your employee’s working lives, encouraging health and wellbeing and make clients and staff feel valued by providing amenities and opportunities. This could include anything from gyms and bedrooms, to studios and specialist equipment - think about photography equipment and cameras to produce videos and other dynamic content that will enhance your digital reputation. This is a great opportunity to work ‘greener’ too. Offering a combination of electric charging points in the carpark, cycle parks, walking/cycling/running routes - with showers for those that choose to commute via cycle or on foot or to exercise at lunchtime - on-site creches, food outlets. This is a chance to create a real, sustainable working hub that supports workers in their lifestyle choices.

Creating the office of 2021 - and beyond

It is possible to create a dynamic, contemporary environment that responds to the specific needs of your business and of your team in your existing building - or you can design and build a unique, new building. We are currently working closely with clients in Cambridge and Central London, developing office spaces which are bespoke to the business needs and which clearly demonstrate the company ethos. These sustainable, healthy working environments attract the best employees and higher rental incomes. To discover how your office can be transformed to suit changing business and employee requirements, we will work with you to create a detailed brief, which clearly defines exactly what your company does and how your teams work together.

Do not underestimate the many business benefits for embracing this vision too. When your offices reflect your ethos and brand, visiting clients will clearly understand what it means to do business with you. Existing staff will be motivated as you clearly understand their needs, the best new talent will be attracted to your company, and business owners can command higher rental incomes. It’s a win/win opportunity.

Saunders was founded in 1988 and are a 70-strong national practice of architects and urban designers. They offer a full design service: from feasibility and planning submissions, through to delivery of projects both large and small, across a variety of sectors. Saunders works with clients to understand the nature of their work, their brand, the team and the spaces required before developing design proposals that will exceed your aspirations. We can then detail the agreed scheme before preparing tender information. Taking this time to create an innovative yet practical workspace will generate numerous benefits for your business over and over again.

Annabel Lait is a highly experienced Chartered Architect with specialist education, commercial, and residential knowledge. She has redesigned commercial spaces, worked on complex, high-end residential schemes and large, mixed tenure housing projects and projects for primary, secondary, higher and further education. Annabel takes projects from initial concept design through planning, and onto project delivery on site.

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