SHP is ringing in the new year with a few predictions on the future of work.

Much of our introspection stems from COVID-19 and its implications on the world’s collective awareness of physical space—particularly within corporate workplaces. It’s a topic we dive into further in our interview with Jeffrey Sackenheim and Brady Mick, which you can listen to in our new podcast.

We’ve observed that the pandemic has hastened the adoption—or at the very least, spurred an awakening to—what was already occurring in Corporate America: a shifting definition of productivity from doing work efficiently to doing work effectively.

Teams the world over have proven they’re able to be efficient outside of the “traditional” workplace during the pandemic. In one survey of 800 employers, 94% of respondents reported that productivity was the same as or higher than it was before COVID-19, even with employees working remotely. Harvard Business Review noted, “Companies that were already collaborating effectively and working productively before the pandemic have remained productive during lockdowns and other disruptions.”


[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]As a result of this work-from-home effectiveness, we predict that when employees return to their workplaces—and they will return—there will be new expectations for how their workplaces facilitate the new definition of productivity. Workplaces around the globe will be pressured to reimagine their office spaces to meet the demands of a culturally enriched future. And when we’re asked whether most companies are ready for this next leap forward, the answer is most often, “No.”[/perfectpullquote]

As an architecture, design and engineering firm, it’s an exciting challenge to solve for, but it isn’t a new one. Creating a sense of place is the higher purpose our industry has always tasked itself with achieving. (We even blogged about how best to create a sense of place amidst COVID-19.)

Pre-COVID, we arrived at a higher level of design through our onboarding workshops and client discovery sessions, during which we would ask our clients business questions that seemingly have no immediate connection to design. Questions like: What do you need as a group to produce at the highest level possible? Where do your highest-level results occur? What does effectiveness look like? What about productivity? Collaboration? Innovation?

Designing for a post-pandemic workplace looks a little different. It means asking more questions like: Why do you need to come into the office? Do you need physical space for high-level results, effectiveness, productivity, collaboration and innovation to occur? Who else needs to be there? What needs to be there? What would make you want to come into the office and more importantly, why? What does a physical office space offer that can’t be replicated at home and vice-versa?

This level of inquiry and curiosity establishes design drivers that we use to interpret our clients’ needs and guide the design process. We don’t just want our clients’ employees to return to “business as usual.” We want them to want to report to work; we want them to thrive. In post-COVID workplaces, our higher purpose as architects and designers is to create not just a sense of place, but spaces where people want to be.

There are incremental steps clients can take—and we’re not necessarily talking long-term changes, either—to help create that sense of wanting to be there that we speak of. For example: modular and flexible furniture systems, tearing down or constructing new walls and creating more “Zoom rooms” for people who need to be physically in the office while the rest of their workforce remains remote. These are just some of the interim solutions we’re helping our clients adopt now to prepare for post-pandemic employee expectations.

While the future is anything but certain, one thing is clear: It’s a helluva time to be a corporate workplace designer. Bring it on.

For more on how SHP is helping our clients navigate the unknowns of a post-COVID workplace, check out our podcast:

Workplace Planning + Trends, with Jeffrey Sackenheim and Brady Mick.