What does the workplace of the future look like?

Inspiring art, Zoom rooms and enticing shared spaces could await working dads in the workplace of the near future

empty office


With governments across the UK now making explicit their plans to unwind lockdown a return to the office is on the cards.

The evidence from surveys is rock solid: working dads don’t want to go back to the 9-5 in a fixed location. However it also looks like most people do want to see colleagues again. Partly for the change of scene and personnel after months at home with their families. But also because sharing a space can spark creativity. Hybrid working is seen as the solution to what’s been dubbed the ‘watercooler conundrum’.

However there will inevitably be hesitancy around returning to work outside the home.

After months of being told to fear other people and their germs the idea of being cooped up with a variety of colleagues with varying hygiene standards will take some getting used to.

Employers will need to offer not just reassurance, but possibly incentives to tempt the workforce back. And they’ll have to think about their workplace needs going forward.

Art in the workplace

One of the more innovative solutions proposed this week is to bring art into the workplace of the future. Decorating offices with interesting art is one thing, but installing interactive art can take that further. There’s plenty of evidence that art feeds mental wellbeing. And it could be harnessed to drive folk into the office. When there’s a Slack chat that starts ‘have you seen the new art work at work?’ it’ll pique the interest.

But crucially that doesn’t mean putting employees under pressure to leave their domestic responsibilities behind every day. It’d be enough to tempt people to visit the office at a time that works for them and the business. It’d have to be quite the artwork to have the entire workforce desperate to spend eight hours a day viewing it (and if it was Mona Lisa-esque folk in the office would be pondering the art not productive, defeating the point.)

On a more practical note the vast majority of businesses that took part in a recent survey said they were looking to rejig their workplace. That’s being driven by the demand for hybrid working.

The workplace of the future will be smaller. With fewer employees in the office all week there’s going to be surplus floor space. The number of desks is on average going to be cut by a third to a half as desks are shared going forward. HSBC reinforced this with their announcement that they’ll be cutting office space by 40%. CEO Noel Quinn said “We believe we’ll achieve it via a very different style of working post-COVID with a more hybrid model. Take London, for example, we will have the building at Canary Wharf, this will be the primary office but the nature of working in the office will change.”

The tech challenge

Then there’ll be the tech challenge. ‘Zoom rooms’ may be commonplace in the workplace of the future to allow fully hybrid meetings. Sitting round the spider phone may be a thing of the past now video conferencing has come of age during lockdown.

But it won’t all be about tech. The whole point of encouraging employees back to a shared workspace is to have them interact and inspire each other. So expect collaborative spaces to take a more central role. Instead of ‘break out’ rooms on the periphery expect more traditional white collar industries to embrace the dot.com approach of open plans, shared bars and breakfast spaces and plenty of opportunity for mixing at all levels.

Working dads who are employees can look forward to more interesting offices, designed to make them want to go into work. For employers there’s an opportunity to radically rethink the work space and reap the benefits of an engaged, inspired and collaborative workforce.

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