Months of working from the couch might have erased them from people’s minds, but despite the headlines about companies breaking leases and the rise of global nomads, offices are still central to the way many companies plan to do business going forward.
The office experience is likely to feel very different, though, as more companies adopt a hybrid workplace approach, with people coming in only on some days and working from home the rest of the time. However often they come in, many employees are going to be entering office environments that are dramatically altered. In some places, new design concepts are radically reshaping spaces and furnishings, resulting in plentiful collaboration areas, technologies that can guide the reconfiguration of desk layouts and conference rooms, and other more flexible, responsive, and adaptive features.
These transformations are happening now. Companies such as Spotify, Salesforce, and the online identity-management company Okta have had redesigns in the works for months, and they’re all devising novel ways of making their spaces comfortable and seamlessly functional for people when they need to come into the office. Their innovations in a few key areas provide a glimpse of what your post-couch work life might entail.
At Salesforce, a 40% reduction in the number of desks is creating more room for collaboration, according to Michele Schneider, senior vice president of global workplace services. That means adding more booths, cafés, communal tables, couches, whiteboards, and mobile audiovisual equipment to allow teamwork to happen anywhere.
To make offices more flexible, assigned desks are being reduced in number or fully eliminated as companies decrease their square footage or reconsider the footprint they have. Salesforce and Spotify are shifting toward floor plans with team-focused “neighborhoods,” with furnishings and spaces for both individual and collaborative work rather than a sea of desks.
Using sensors, badges, and analytics, Okta is harnessing data to track precisely how its offices are being utilized. “Think of it like a net over the top of the space,” says Samantha Fisher, Okta’s head of dynamic work. “Each of those data points tells a story about how a particular space or work point is being used.” If a conference room is under- or overutilized, they’ll know, and can adjust as needed.
With hybrid work meaning that there will be a different office population from day to day, flexibility is key. More companies are adopting furniture that can be moved and reconfigured to accommodate a brainstorm or an all hands. At Okta’s San Francisco headquarters, outlet-equipped furniture enables workers to plug in wherever they choose to sit.
Offices are often overwhelmed by noise. For a company like Spotify, where being able to listen is essential, this is particularly problematic. Some of the company’s new offices feature library-like rooms divided by bookshelves, with individual laptop desks surrounded by acoustic paneling. “It’s a space you can go to when you need to nail down that presentation,” says Sonya Simmonds, Spotify’s head of workplace design.