Ways to Work: How The New Normal Will Influence Office Design

The office of a high-end jewellery company based in Hong Kong designed by In Situ & Partners. Image courtesy of In Situ & Partners.
The office of Fine+Rare, a distributor for wine and spirits based in Hong Kong. Image courtesy of In Situ & Partners.
Meeting rooms of Goelia Headquarters designed by Clifton Leung Design Workshop. Image courtesy of Clifton Leung Design Workshop.
Lighting system in a more domestic warm tone (around 2700-3000k) instead of a sterile cold white tone makes it a more pleasant work environment. Image courtesy of Clifton Leung Design Workshop.
Common area of Goelia Headquarters designed by Clifton Leung Design Workshop. Image courtesy of Clifton Leung Design Workshop.
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The ongoing trend to work from home, whether for two days out of the week or five, will likely have an impact on workplace design. Designers share their thoughts on the new trend, how it can bring about change in the layout, choice of materials, lighting and more.

TEXT: Jacqueline Kot
IMAGES: Courtesy of Clifton Leung Design Workshop and In Situ & Partners

 

Working from home has become so much a part of this new normal that it has been reduced to an abbreviation, and something that HR departments have grown to manage as part of their portfolio. With WFH moving away from being a scenario that we resort to from time to time to becoming a long-term trend, we look at how this, and the global pandemic, will have an impact on how offices may look like in the near future.

 

The office of a high-end jewellery company based in Hong Kong designed by In Situ & Partners. Image courtesy of In Situ & Partners.

 

New Practicalities to Consider

One of the big changes will be the spacing between desks—social distancing has dictated how we go about in our day-to-day, from where we stand in line in the bank to how tables are spaced out in a restaurant, and the office is no exception.

“A lot of offices are designed to be open plan and I think that will be here to stay, but with partitions and more space between the desks. That will help people feel better,” says Clifton Leung, the founder of Hong Kong-based interior design firm Clifton Leung Design Workshop. “And the partitions will be made from materials that will be easy to clean and disinfect. Nothing that is porous.”

“Germ-resistant materials for flooring and surfaces would be preferred, such as copper and its alloys (brass, bronze, cupronickel, copper-nickel-zinc and others) and antimicrobial synthetic fabrics,” says Yacine Bensalem, managing director for In Situ & Partners, also an interior design firm based in Hong Kong.

Working from home has made companies, and its employees, realise that productivity doesn’t need a traditional office environment to be achievable, which might signal the way for more flexibility in how and where we work, in the future. Employees don’t need to be physically at the office every day of the week, which means that offices might be smaller as it doesn’t need to follow the typical one-to-one ratio of desks and computers for every person on their team.

Dara Huang, founder of Design Haus Liberty, an architecture and design firm with offices in Hong Kong and London, thinks that smaller offices with less desks will provide more room for the design to showcase the company’s brand and work instead.

“I think that computers will be further apart and people will lease significantly smaller spaces as people are going to work remotely. Smaller footprints may mean that you have more room to highlight the office ethos and brand rather than a place for everyone to sit 10 hours a day,” says Huang.

 

The office of Fine+Rare, a distributor for wine and spirits based in Hong Kong. Image courtesy of In Situ & Partners.

 

And if the team will include both people working from home and people in the office on any given day, companies will continue to rely on technology such as Zoom, with Leung predicting that more attention will be paid to the design of the meeting rooms and how it can better accommodate the company’s technology needs.

Bensalem adds that new technology features will also be gradually introduced in the work environment: “The use of new technologies will be predominant and will have to be integrated into the design in the most sustainable way,” he says. “These can include features for a pre-entry wellness check and touchless entry, social distancing sensors, remote collaboration tools for video conference, low-touch and voice-enabled technologies, and autonomous cleaning solutions.”

 

Meeting rooms of Goelia Headquarters designed by Clifton Leung Design Workshop. Image courtesy of Clifton Leung Design Workshop.

 

More Attention to Wellness

The current situation has highlighted the importance of health and wellbeing and Bensalem, Leung and Huang have all pointed to the air quality in an office as a key component to consider in the design.

“Ventilation and fresh air is always something I am a big proponent of but I was always met with backlash because of automated controlled internal systems, while operable windows have to be at a certain height maybe because of safety reasons,” says Huang. “Most of the reasons were due to HR issues—having too many people complain about the temperature can be a headache, so leaving it to a machine to dictate it is much easier. [However] I think nothing beats fresh air—it’s so much healthier and it helps you feel more alert and focused at work.”

Sharing similar sentiments, Leung says, “Air quality is important—if you can’t have windows that open then install a sophisticated filtration system to keep the air clean. It also makes it easier to maintain the office as there is less dust and other particles around.”

Changing the lighting from the standard, clinical white lighting that is often the default choice for offices, to LED lighting in warmer tones will also create a more uplifting environment.

“I am a big fan of using different modes of lighting, it is good for the eyes and energy levels to have more than just one way to light your office space. It’s nice to have individual task lights and also some ambient and mood light too as people work quite late,” says Huang. “Having the light in a more domestic warm tone (around 2700-3000k) instead of a sterile cold white tone makes it a lot more pleasant, and these days LED comes in all spectrum of colours and are also energy efficient.”

 

Lighting system in a more domestic warm tone (around 2700-3000k) instead of a sterile cold white tone makes it a more pleasant work environment. Image courtesy of Clifton Leung Design Workshop.

 

Make the Space Count

Whether we work from home or at the office, the workload remains the same. Spending long hours at work is normal and Leung hopes that increasingly offices will move away from the standard, cookie cutter looks featuring a monotone colour palette and practical furniture—an uninspiring look that is not conducive to productivity or creativity. “Especially the standard fixture of installing a false ceiling and fluorescent lighting, which isn’t a cheaper option anyway,” says Leung.

A little ingenuity can go a long way, especially when it comes to materials that are both visually attractive and easy to clean.

“I’ve seen offices use Lego for a feature wall—it’s amazing, it’s an idea that is both practical and fun,” says Leung. “We took the metal poles that were used to support a dry wall and put them together to create a sliding door in our own office. It’s a material that was never used for a door but with some creativity, you can turn it into something unique.”

 

Common area of Goelia Headquarters designed by Clifton Leung Design Workshop. Image courtesy of Clifton Leung Design Workshop.

 

With employees choosing to come into the office only at certain times, Bensalem thinks that will encourage companies to think of the office as not just a place where their employees come to work.

“With the development of home office, companies are recognizing that the office is more than just a workplace. It should be more of a community place, a place of learning, a place of engagement. Now that employers realize that work can be done from home, the workplace has to bring something else than being just a place to get work done,” says Bensalem. “The way each organization will implement this and communicate around it will become a significant factor for retaining employees as much as to attracting new talents.”

 

 

 

 
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