The vast majority of companies are taking a ‘wait-and-see’ approach before instituting major design changes to their offices to reflect its new purpose.
Corporate office tenants are likely to begin instituting renovations over the next few months as they gain a better sense of what employees expect out of a return to physical work—but they’ll likely do so in small ways designed to have a big impact.
“In a hybrid world, the reality is that most spaces opened before 2020 are simply not designed to support new work dynamics and to fully enable innovation, collaboration, and socialization,” said Michael Casolo, Chief Revenue Officer at global workplace strategy, design and construction firm Unispace. “That being said, the vast majority of companies are taking a ‘wait-and-see’ approach before instituting major design changes to their offices to reflect its new purpose.”
In light of the fact that many workers now eschew the “old way” of physical work, Casolo notes that companies are initially starting with small, flexible design changes and seeing where they lead.
“For example, to smooth the transition between working from home and being back in the office, workplace designers are creating more intimate settings so that the space functions like an office but feels like a living room,” he says. “And they’re not just installing new furniture to achieve this aesthetic. Organizations are also trying to replicate how employees moved through their day while working from home.”
That means tweaking space configurations to allow employees more space to move through offices in a “meandering way,” versus a traditional structure.
“You’re unlikely to find rows and rows of desks lined up anymore–instead companies are intentionally breaking up workstations with biophilia and clustering them in smaller groups,” Casolo says.
Unispace’s recent design project for Kroll in Chicago is instructive on this point: the company’s design team took a “neighborhood” approach to the company’s Fulton Market office that incorporated high, airy ceilings and positioned collaborative spaces like the boardroom and café along the perimeter. It also used daylighting and a green wall with hanging greenery to give the space a natural, warm vibe.
A report late last year from JLL takes a similar position, noting that mobility, technology-centric design, and a focus on wellness and sustainability will likely take center stage as office users test new designs this year and beyond. The firm predicts that a permanent move toward virtual collaboration of some kind will require more conference rooms, huddle rooms, and flex spaces that allow for video calls, and says “the quantity of technology in an average office is forecast to continue rising, which will mean increased complexity to support a more robust technology suite.”
Casolo also says it’s also important to give employees a stake in redesigns—especially as the race for talent (and retention) intensifies.
“The geopolitical and social upheaval of the last few years impacted some people more than others, with outsized negative impact on women, the socially disadvantaged and ethnic minorities,” he says. “Giving people who may not wish to return to the physical workplace due to past discrimination a genuine say in how they can do their best work in an office environment, post-pandemic is a key took to support organizations’ DEIB strategy. Spaces designed for a sense of belonging and inclusion highlight an organization’s commitment to make cultural change possible.”
Office fit out benchmarks for progressive space, which JLL defines as efficient open office floor plans with mostly bench style seating, no enclosed offices, and a high ratio of small huddle rooms, ranges from $155 per square feet for the base level to $181 per square foot for medium quality spaces and $224 per square foot for high-quality custom flex spaces specific to the end user, according to JLL research. Costs for moderate space consisting of “agile floor plans” composed mainly of workstations in an open setting and a moderate number of private offices and mid-sized collaborative workspaces, range from $159 per square foot for base, $190 per square foot for medium, and $232 per square foot for high-end offices. Meanwhile, traditional spaces heavy on private offices and big conference rooms range from $168 per square foot for base, $201 for medium, and $243 for high quality.