Future Of Work: How Remote Work Will Change Office Design

Allwork.Space spoke with Tim Mok, Director of Strategy at TPG Architecture, to understand the changes coming our way as teams become increasingly distributed.
  • Allwork.Space spoke with Tim Mok, Director of Strategy at TPG Architecture, to understand the changes coming our way as teams become increasingly distributed.
  • For business, part of what makes the health crisis so devastating is how slow organizations are able to adapt and seek shelter while also maintaining productivity.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic is already a catalyst for change, both necessary and painful, for companies to adapt to global events with agility.

Remote work has been on the rise for the past couple of years. However, the novel coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the shift towards remote work. 

All aspects of work have been impacted by this shift, including the workplace itself. 

Tim Mok, Director of Strategy at TPG Architecture, believes that ”the implications of COVID-19 will be meaningful not only in how we consider our individual health care but also in how people occupy space and the reasons for doing so.”

Many believe that once the pandemic is over, we will not go back to the office — at least not full-time. Rather, as organizations and employees alike realize the benefits of working remotely, this type of arrangement is expected to become the norm in a post-coronavirus world. 

Naturally, this will have huge implications on workplace design, which is why organizations should be open-minded about how workplace design may shift and evolve in the coming months. 

Allwork.Space spoke with Tim Mok to better understand some of the changes that the workplace may go through as teams become increasingly distributed. Below are the highlights of our conversation.

Allwork.Space: Remote work has been on the rise for the past couple of years. The COVID-19 pandemic is expected to accelerate the transition to remote work now and in the future. How will this shift impact workplace design?

Tim Mok: While there have been several trends on multiple ends of the spectrum of fixed vs. remote working (e.g. workplaces designed to bring employees to a central office, to distributed satellite offices, or back to their homes to work remotely), the COVID-19 pandemic will impact workplace design by providing a real, lived-through example of a business continuity event forcing employees to be as far away from each other as possible.

Some organizations will rethink their real estate allocations based on which teams would truly benefit from being on-site, or in close proximity with each other vs. what other teams could operate remotely at the same level of in-office effectiveness. 

We will likely see a more dramatic push for flexible seating and furniture to accommodate teams that are remote most days of the week, in addition to providing some level of social distancing should certain populations require that method in future pandemics.

Allwork.Space: Do you believe private offices will have a comeback following the coronavirus pandemic, even among distributed or remote teams?

In reality, private offices or enclosed spaces for individuals have continued to be a part of workplace design. While some recent publications have touted the end of the private office, a truly balanced and effective work environment is responsive to various employee work patterns and features a mix of open and enclosed spaces for both individuals and teams. 

Thus, it is probable that private offices may have a new type of value in addition to supporting heads down or confidential work by becoming spaces that are more conducive to managing pandemics.

Allwork.Space: What are some key areas of design that you believe companies will need to focus on as teams increasingly work remotely? Why?

Two types of design will be critical – organizational and workplace.

From an organizational design perspective, companies will need to think about the tools, processes, and work culture that can be the foundation for teams to be productive and effective when either increasing their remote working or having all team members work remotely at once. 

From a workplace design perspective, companies will need to consider what spaces, furniture, and layouts best accommodate part or most of a workforce that will have to work remotely at the drop of a hat in case of future pandemics.

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Allwork.Space: What are some steps organizations can take now to ensure that their workplaces support a distributed team in the future?

For starters, collect all the notes and lessons learned from our current experience during COVID-19. Create ways to assess how well teams are working or how well work is being done.

We’re in the middle of a massive-scale remote working experiment, and many employees are iterating and learning through trial and error. These data points and perspectives are already being tested by the nuances of each organization, so any future documentation or programs of how to be successful in working remotely can and should leverage these lessons learned.

Allwork.Space: How will this shift to distributed teams impact company branding and culture in the workplace?

The shift underscores the need to maintain company branding and culture in the digital workplace. It’s possible that intranet sites or other communication tools will become more branded and integrated into the company’s identity and culture.

Allwork.Space: You mentioned previously that organizations could rethink their real estate allocations. Do you believe this shift to remote work will lead to companies taking up less square footage than in previous years? Will this impact the amount of square footage allocated per individual?

Yes and no – Some companies may lean heavier into converting more parts of their business into sustained remote working which would drive a lower square footage. This change could also inspire a completely new real estate and talent strategy as companies would have more flexibility to hire talent in markets with lower costs. 

However, there may also be companies that will actually increase the total square footage or perhaps the total individual efficiency by virtue of building out more enclosed spaces and layouts that provide greater protection in case some part of the office population needs to be segregated for health advisory reasons. Each outcome comes from a different goal or strategy that a company might employ based on the aftermath of COVID-19.

Allwork.Space: What are some of the potential challenges workplace designers might come across as the workforce becomes increasingly distributed?

As the workforce becomes increasingly distributed, some challenges may include the integration of conferencing technology in the physical space where more people are calling in vs. the people who are present in the space. Another challenge might be figuring out an acceptable level of social distancing in the office while still maintaining some level of space efficiency and adherence to fire egress codes.

Allwork.Space: Will the role of technology in the workplace change in terms of design? If so, how?

While we’re already seeing technology move from being anchored in the workplace to being more accessible and mobile in the hands of employees, it’s likely that we’ll see this shift accelerate further. Part of what can make a business continuity event like COVID-19 so devastating is how slow an organization is able to adapt and seek shelter while also maintaining business productivity. 

Technology tools like laptops and mobile video conferencing help increase the agility for employees and organizations to respond and continue working remotely. The physical workspace itself may see additional changes that support better connectivity and community with remote populations, potentially with how video cameras, video displays, or audio receivers are placed throughout the space.

Allwork.Space: Anything else you’d like to add? 

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a significant moment for all industries across the world. However, it is already a catalyst for change, both necessary and painful, for companies to embrace digital tools and ensure their employees are sufficiently trained in the tools and techniques to respond to global events with agility and grace. 

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