Open office spaces have long been the preferred choice of workplace design but the pandemic has brought back the need for closed spaces for health and safety reasons.
A recent global report, “Changing Expectations And The Future Of Work”, by furniture design company Steelcase, which included responses by CXOs (79%), managers (17%) and a minor section of employees, found that 40% people want privacy walls, panels and dividers back. Most participants worked in organizations that had less than 1,000 employees. Over 35% respondents said they wanted stand-alone enclosed workstations as long-term design changes.
Most offices are investing in redesigning their spaces, says Praveen Rawal, managing director of Steelcase, India, Asia-Pacific and SAARC. The demand for pilot spaces, where you design work area for 20-50 people and check how the design works for them, has increased, he says. “This was a miniscule figure pre-covid. Now, companies want to do this to check the proof of concept, whether the design is serving its purpose before rolling it out in the entire organisation.”
One of the major features of the office redesign is increasing the workspace area between employees. Nearly half of the respondents in the survey expect their work desks to be 2.1 sq.m or larger compared to 1.5-1.8 sq.m earlier.
Ancillary or smart work furniture, like lounge seatings and private pods, are seeing an uptick, with organizations dedicating more space for them. The Steelcase report found that over 80% participants wanted flexible furniture, a 6% rise from last April. “We are finding offices dedicating 35-50% of the floor space to such furniture. This is going to be the way forward,” Rawal says.
A trend, which the survey highlights, is employees wanting more choice and control over when and where they work from. While the survey shows 97% people are eager to return to offices, especially for collaborative work, they want to limit the visits to two or three days a week.
Some organizations with 100-200 employees are mapping their workforce and thinking of setting up satellite offices for their employees to work from. Larger organizations, though, are consolidating and building big campuses.
“That’s a big surprise. We are going to cities like Patna and Bhubaneshwar to set up about 30-seater offices, which we would have entered three or four years later. But we know of large campus projects that are coming up in six to eight cities,” says Rawal. Most of these organizations are in pharma, research, healthcare, IT and ITeS sectors, and banking and financial sectors, which weren’t severely affected by the pandemic, he explains.
It’s not just the private sector, though. Rawal has been noticing a rise in interest from PSU companies as well in investing in ergonomic furniture. “PSUs are still a small percent of our overall business but we are working towards increasing their representation to 20% in the next three years,” he adds. “Organizations used to be proud of having densely packed office floors. Not anymore.”