The adaptable office

The roadmap out of lockdown is focusing the mind on future ways of working and what the office might look like after the pandemic.

Business woman at a business center outdoors


There’s a lot of speculation about what the post pandemic office will look like with hybrid working likely to be a key feature, despite anticipated pressure to get back to ‘normal’.

The Prime Minister’s roadmap out of lockdown, announced earlier this week, has given employers some kind of timetable for rolling out their post-Covid strategies. The emergence from lockdown will be gradual and there will still be social distancing and Covid safety measures for some time and that will have an impact on office layout.

While many employers were forced to adapt to remote working and have realised that it can work, there are countless negative reports about the consequences of Covid remote working and many planning a big return to offices in the next months. Part of the problem is that many employers weren’t set up for remote working and had to adapt very quickly and without putting a long-term strategy and all the infrastructure to support it in place. In addition, there are many who just don’t enjoy remote working or don’t have the home set-up to support it.

Hybrid working

One solution to increased employee demand for remote working and concerns about some of the potential disadvantages is hybrid working [working part-week from home and part-week in the office], which there is much popular support for from employees. The move to more hybrid working has been growing for some time, but Covid has accelerated the trend.

Some architects, though, have already been designing office buildings with this change in mind, questioning their purpose and emphasising the need for ‘agile space’ which can adapt to fast-changing circumstances – something we are likely to see more of.

That means a focus on offices as collaborative spaces, with brainstorming areas, meeting spaces lined with screens for remote joiners, and a focus on the workplace experience.

An example of this is Bruntwood Works’ £50 million Pioneer project which began before Covid. The Pioneer buildings offer workspace for businesses of all sizes, from a single co-working desk to serviced offices and leased spaces. Each building is designed for its specific location, but all are based on six key themes; amenity, wellbeing, biophilia [affinity with the natural world], technology, sustainability and art. This includes a building with a rooftop garden filled with flowing meadows and flowers and others with independent cafes, collaborative co-working areas and community spaces hosting a regular rotation of pop-ups, from yoga classes to beauticians and barbers.

Andrew Cooke, Strategic Director at Bruntwood Works, says: “The office and working from home are both key parts of every business’ toolkit and the balance between the two post pandemic will inevitably change. That means we need to see the office as an opportunity to provide spaces and environments that you just can’t replicate elsewhere. This means creating spaces which add value to our customers’ business and which power productivity.”

Accelerating trends in office design

Many have been down this road years ago. Back in 2012, Unilever was talking about how agile working changes were transforming the workplace, with its offices designed around activities – the focus zone [an open plan desk area for individual work]; the connect zone [where they collaborate]; and the vitality zone which could include a gym, staff shop and other facilities such as a swimming pool, hair salon or even a spa – all designed to engage employees with the company’s brands.

Many architects are also looking at how to make their buildings more climate proof and energy efficient, using office management apps which ensure, for instance, heating and lighting are only used when necessary.

Like many things, Covid is accelerating trends in office design which were already in place.

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