Trends in Office Architecture Post- COVID

No architect saw that the trends in office architecture post COVID would redefine this vertical of designing so drastically. As countries begin adopting the vaccine, bolstering the population’s confidence; more people will return to offices. Architects who deal with offices and similar commercial spaces should be familiar with these trends. Here is our list of top trends we think will impact office architecture in the upcoming years.

Rise of Hybrid Models

Pre-pandemic, most offices questioned the efficacy of work from home. After forcefully having to adopt this model of working, companies have come to see the merit in it. Further, businesses are becoming aware that employees work differently. Some employees are super productive in a home environment and others thrive at office. Architects are now trying to design spaces so they can adopt a hybrid model. This help brings the best of both worlds together.

Employees have realised that they either thrive at home or at the office.

In a hybrid model, architects can depend on researches or take a poll of employees working for their client. Understanding the preference of employees for either home or office work; spaces can be designed accordingly. Companies will need to obviously adapt to a new working style. The ‘home thrivers’ can come to office a couple of days in the week and work on group tasks, and meetings.

Company Culture & Customisation

Earlier, architects designed offices basis their own creativity which was aligned with the layout requirements of the client. It was purely transactional. Office architecture post COVID would however be driven by the culture of the company. The idea might sound bizarre to most, but the truth is, thousands of companies across the world have had employees work remotely for a year. The only thing that has kept them together is company culture.

Office architecture depends on company culture- however post COVID, an architect needs to dig deeper.

Office architecture trends post COVID is leaning towards incorporating company culture in design, in an in-depth manner. For example, earlier it says a casual work environment for a tech start-up or a corporate design for a multi-national corporation. Now architects need to dig deeper. They need to understand the team and individual dynamics in the office. They need to learn how employees work through the day.They must question what proportion of it is individual tasks and what proportion falls under collaboration. An architect should know if they have a hierarchical culture or an egalitarian one. Further he should understand how guests and visitors are engaged with. It then boils down to customising the office architecture as per the culture.    

Challenge of Bringing People Back to the ‘Office’

The longer employees work from home, the more difficult it is to get them back to office. Even in the case of employees who thrive in office, it is indeed a task to make shift their behaviour. Office architecture post COVID is playing a significant role in bringing employees back to the workplace. Workers need to be assured that it is safe and that the risk of contagion is minimised. Companies are now re-engaging architects and designers to make the workplace more flexible and spaced out.

Its essential to make employees feel safe about returning back to office.

The current trend is that companies are calling back employees in tranches so that the process if eased out. However, it implies renting out more space to accommodate the more spaced approach.Companies are also using the alternative of allowing a hybrid schedule where employees alternate between office and work from home. The architects then need to plan for 50% occupancy. Common spaces are having to be partitioned and shared desks are being split. Either way, designers are working on ensuring that employees feel safe coming to the office to work. Some practical ideas include like moving desks apart, adding barriers and increasing cleaning frequency.

Increasing Role of Technology

Overnight the pandemic accelerated the adoption of technology. This included technology that brought in a touch-less environment and those which allowed remote communication. As offices move to flexible systems of attendance, the use of RFID enabled scanning for manpower count will increase.

Touch-less technology will play a huge role in office architecture in the coming years.

Architects now foresee a growing trend of using occupancy sensors which monitor movement to regulate energy usage. For example, lights, air-conditioning and internet routers can be programmed to calibrates per occupancy levels. Architects also foresee adoption of touch-less technology like retina scanning or finger print scanning which will mark attendance or indicating an elevator to move to one’s office floor. This of course involves investment decision from the company’s side. Architects though will be key influencers.

Retrofits & Renovation

As the workforce comes back to office, organisations are having to undergo the task of renovating and retrofitting. Designers and architects need to be up to speed with this challenge. The skill of repurposing an existing building will come handy in this case. The ability to control budgets will work in an architect’s favour too.

Post COVID architecture will involve more compartmentalisation & distancing

Architects need to be in sync with health guidelines. For example, as most washing basins are inside bathrooms, designers may need to install new ones outside. This is to accommodate for the need of frequent hand washing. Such hand washing stations, automatic sanitiser dispensers and even a quarantine room within the office premise are just some of the office architecture trends post COVID.

Air Conditioning & Purification

Air-conditioning networks are calling for major re-designing to prevent community infection. Centralised air-conditioning may have to be split floor wise or zone wise. Architects are seeing a shift towards non-central air-conditioning in new projects. This means, creation of partitions and installing energy efficient air-conditioning systems.

Air purification & safer air-conditioning will be priority in office design.

Air purification has become a new need. For example, High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters with UV light features will see an increase in demand. Such purification units kill viruses and bacteria.So, office architecture post COVID would need to accommodate such equipment.  units to kill bacteria and viruses may become a standard feature.

Role of Outside Air

It has been stated by public health authorities that the easiest way to control indoor spread of viruses is to increase flow of outside air. Simply opening windows can help dilute the concentration of contagion within an office premise. The challenge is that most windows in office buildings are not operable. This practice arose because tightly sealed windows made the building more energy efficient. It prevented air-conditioning leakage outside and heat entering inside.

Mechanisms to encourage the flow of fresh air into the office will have to be designed

Office architecture post COVID mandates that we find a solution to this. Architects are looking towards a window-design that has already gone into commercial production in Europe. In these window, the sill accommodates a concealed mechanical heat-exchange system. The system gives building owners the flexibility to either warm or cool the air before it enters the building. However, such a system should also have a manual over-riding option. Imagine the case of pollution or forest fires. When air quality is bad outside, its best to keep outside air, out. Till the above-mentioned windows become widely available, office premises can use the economiser mode in air conditioning systems, allowing outside air in. There are settings that allow one to do that, like those in cars.

The trends in office architecture postCOVID were those which were unpredicted a year back. Nobody foresaw that it would change the world as we know it, forever. Architects are now grasping in full, the ways in which they need to think of office architecture. We hope the above article pointed you in the right direction.


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