The Evolution of Corporate Offices in 2021 and Beyond
July 1, 2021•News
The pandemic triggered a drastic shift in how we work, with more than one-quarter of Canadian workers (28.6%) still working remotely as of December 2020. In the US, 57% of teams across the country were working remotely around the same time, including 41% of employees working remotely full-time and 16% working remotely part of the time through a hybrid schedule.
Remote work is not for everyone, but questions have emerged about the role of physical office spaces in a post-pandemic world. There is no question that human connection in the workplace is important and that the physical office is a place for people to gather and feel a sense of belonging. But as companies decide what their return to office plan looks like, they have new considerations to take into account given employees’ increased concerns for health and safety, changing priorities, and new values. Integrating these evolved priorities will be essential ingredients for employers going forward.
Given this, we can see that the future of work and workspaces has been irreversibly changed by the pandemic. Here are three ways we are already seeing corporate offices evolve to meet the needs of a post-pandemic world.
Design for Health and Wellbeing
The global pandemic has put our health at the forefront like never before. Over the last year, we have learned that the transmission of devastating viruses, like COVID-19, is somewhat (although not entirely) reduced in outdoor settings, because of factors like improved air circulation – whereas enclosed and crowded indoor settings enable quite the opposite. These lessons have prompted leaders in architecture, construction, design, and engineering to think about how we should design or redesign our indoor spaces once the pandemic is behind us, keeping health and wellbeing top-of-mind.
One approach is through biophilic design – the concept of bringing the health benefits of the outdoors inside. This design approach caters to humans’ innate affinity for nature. Office workers’ wellbeing can be improved by deepening their connection to the natural environment while indoors. This results in a better quality of life and, ultimately, more productive organizations.
Using biophilic design, buildings are now being adapted to mimic elements of our outdoor environments. Bright open spaces can reduce overcrowding and allow more flexible traffic flow. Living plants, greenery, and natural materials, like wood, are not only being used for their aesthetic purposes, but to also keep the air clean. In addition, circadian lighting is being incorporated into workplaces to minimize the harmful effects that artificial lighting would traditionally have on our body’s internal clock. While these design techniques might be overlooked by the average person, they play an increasingly important role in occupant mental and physical health and wellbeing.
In the same way that we are considering the impact of our built environments on our health and wellbeing, as concerns for the planet rise, organizations are also prioritizing how their buildings are constructed.
Mass timber (specifically, cross-laminated timber panels) was first manufactured in North America in 2012 as an alternative construction system to concrete and steel. Since then, the mass timber industry has earned and maintained a well-deserved spotlight in North America’s mainstream construction industry, providing a more sustainable way to build without compromising on quality or structural design and aesthetic, and at competitive costs as well. Among mass timber’s greatest benefits? Carbon sequestration
Wood is known for enabling carbon sequestration, which is the process of absorbing and locking away carbon within itself for decades, if not longer. Although the exact amount of carbon sequestered is dependent on the tree species, as well as other production and logistical factors, roughly one cubic meter of cross-laminated timber (CLT) wood sequesters roughly one tonne of CO2. In short, mass timber construction with interior wood finishing is the next big step in building ‘green’.
Major organizations like Walmart, Google, and Microsoft have already moved in this direction, meaning they are recognizing that employees today want to work for companies that think about the environment and are taking steps to counterbalance, or lessen, negative impacts – like using mass timber to construct new, sustainable headquarters and campuses.
If you’re looking for a deeper dive into how building with wood can lessen our environmental impact, as well as create healthier and more productive spaces, revisit this LinkedIn article of mine. It includes an informative report by Graham Lowe, Ph.D. on Wood, Well-Being and Performance: The Human and Organizational Benefits of Wood Buildings.
Incorporating Innovative Technology
Our reliance on technology has increased substantially over the last year to help us go about our daily activities during a time of social distancing and stay-at-home orders. Video conferencing and other workplace communication tools have flourished during this period of remote work, but the pandemic has also forced changes and accelerated the invention of workplace technologies that will help us return to the office when it is safe to do so.
Recent articles have described wearable technology designed for employees to wear around their necks to help ensure they are staying distanced from colleagues. Temperature screening is another advancement that has already been implemented in some workplaces, including thermal imaging cameras that use infrared technology to detect heat and estimate a person’s body temperature. Similarly, ultraviolet lights, which have been previously used to kill bacteria, are being developed and used as a way to disinfect surfaces and curb the transmission of germs or viruses in indoor settings.
On a more basic level, things like occupancy sensors that track the number of people moving in and out of an office building, as well as meeting room booking apps are being improved and used for employee and visitor management in workplace settings.
A complete return to the physical office space likely won’t take place anytime soon for every organization, but there are developments in flight that have the potential to improve employee wellbeing and productivity in the long run. Contrary to the notion that office spaces are ‘dead’ or that they no longer have a place in a post-pandemic world, don’t be surprised when the corporate office of the future promotes people-centric goals of sustainability, health and wellbeing.
The future of work and workspaces are evolving – and science supports the creation of spaces where people belong, thrive, and deliver extraordinary results.
Written By: Hardy Wentzel, CEO, Structurlam