Designer and business management expert Maggie Weber lays out a number of trends shaping the workspace in 2022.
The first half of 2021 saw the slow return of employees to offices, with many realising that they craved interaction with their colleagues. But the surge of the COVID-19 Omicron variant towards the end of the year has resulted in many companies delaying their return-to-office plans indefinitely.
It's become clear that office spaces must change to accommodate a workforce wary of crowded areas, more aware of health precautions, and accustomed to online interactions from the comfort of their own homes. In a post-pandemic world, with many buildings standing empty or only partially filled, what trends can we expect to see in office spaces that will draw people back and ensure maximum occupancy in the office?
"Flexibility is key and, while it has always been around in varying degrees, it is now a primary consideration," says Ttris South Africa Head of Design, Maggie Weber.
"A hybrid working model is emerging as a favourable choice for many organisations, offering flexible solutions for when, where and how staff can work."
Here are some of the key design trends Weber believes we'll be seeing in office spaces this year:
Weber says it's the year of the employee, and employee-driven design choices will be the primary design trend of the year.
"With people now accustomed to the creature comforts of working from home, companies will be incorporating softer, cosier elements into the office space to encourage employees to return to the office," she says.
"Plush carpeting and plenty of comfortable seating create a space where people can work in comfort, be inspired, and meet with others to share ideas. Warm lighting and materials such as velvet, wool and fleece will become increasingly popular as they are helpful for those with sensory issues around light and texture, while inclusive, mindful design is key to accommodate neurodiversity while providing stimulating and rewarding workspaces."
She says buildings that offer more than just a place to work will succeed in attracting occupiers. Spaces dedicated to activities other than work, such as relaxation rooms, rooftop gardens and sitting areas where people can socialise, will become more popular.
Safety and wellness
The pandemic has highlighted health and wellness in the workplace. Some post-pandemic safety measures in modern offices include smart technology devices such as UV lights in lifts to cleanse the booth and energy-efficient HVAC systems with UV lamps to cleanse the circulating air.
"A safe, clean and hygienic environment will reassure people are coming back into the office," says Weber.
A greater need for distanced workstations and fewer desks has meant a rise in multifunctional work areas that efficiently use space. "Modular furniture is great here, with its ability to be reconfigured to accommodate a variety of tasks and employee needs."
Hybrid working is a growing trend, with a recent JLL study showing that 63% of the workforce want to work in this style in the future. The hybrid working model allows for fewer shared desks as workers alternate between the home and office. When coming into the office, employees can choose a workspace or meeting room to match the way they work or the task they have planned for that day. For example, they may need a meeting room for collaborative work or a quiet space for focus and concentration.
Green design and biophilia are already significant trends, but in 2022 Weber says we will start seeing even more natural elements make their way into office spaces. Apart from the aesthetic appeal, greenery and nature-inspired designs can positively impact people's wellbeing. An Interface study, The Human Spaces Report into the Global Impact of Biophilic Design in the Workplace, showed that workers in offices with natural elements had a 15% higher level of wellbeing, were 6% more productive, and 15% more creative.
Corporate and environmental sustainability
The commitment to green design goes beyond biophilic design. Employees increasingly want to know where their office furniture comes from, how it was procured, and whether other materials used to create their office space were sustainably produced and ethically sourced.
Climate risk is now accepted as a financial risk, according to JLL's global survey, Responsible Real Estate – Decarbonizing the Built Environment, and real estate has a critical role in fulfilling enterprise sustainability commitments. One solution being looked at globally is retrofitting legacy buildings to improve their efficiency and emit less carbon. This is a critical step towards a net-zero carbon future as old buildings are responsible for a large portion of the world's energy consumption.
"By reusing the buildings that we already have and incorporating sustainable office fit-outs, we can make them work harder and more cost-effectively," says Weber.
"To drive this kind of sustainable thinking in all JLL and Ttris projects, we launched our Sustainability Code, a methodology accessed through an app that ensures projects move through sustainable intent and concepts to sustainability delivered.
She says in 2022, sustainability in the workplace is about more than just green design. It is also about meaningful social and corporate governance goals.
"Social responsibility is a major theme in 2022 and involves giving back to local communities, creating a circular economy and sourcing locally. It's about humanity and our connection to community, what we call 'ubuntu' in South Africa. It's about taking care of ourselves and of each other."