It can feel as though office life as we know it changes every week. Since the pandemic began in 2020, the working lives of most people have been in a state of flux. Whether it is where we work, how we work or when we work, almost every industry globally has been affected, in one way or another, by the drastic changes that were implemented to keep businesses running.
Various strategies were established to cope with new restrictions, while many flaws from past habits were uncovered. People took a step back and observed their office spaces from a different perspective; in so doing, they saw an opportunity for change.
For workplace designers, this juncture has involved trying to understand what office workers need and want; however, there is very little proven research to for them to go off of. Unlike most trends, these changes have not come about gradually. This cultural shift was forced upon us rapidly and, as time has ticked by, business leaders are being pushed to decide what the future of their workforce will look like and how they plan to facilitate it.
At the moment, hybrid working seems to be the strategy of choice. Consensus seems to be that flexibility makes work better and more productive. Across the board, individuals have taken onus of their personal requirements for a balanced, healthy and prosperous work life. Unfortunately for the designers involved, that means everyone wants something different. Although this is nothing unusual to architects and designers in all fields of practice, it still presents a gargantuan technical challenge.
While architects work to make our buildings more adaptable and interior designers work to achieve multifunctional floor plans, masses of product designers have gotten to work on the commodities that aim to facilitate this new era of office design. This year’s A+Product Awards showcased many products intended to establish a change in office design strategy and revolutionize how we will work going forward.
With many businesses setting their sights on a blended work schedule, shifting from home to office to public space daily and sometimes even hourly, the first thing to be reassessed has been a need for individual workspaces. Since workers are not going to be in the workplace every day, they will not need their own private desk. This reduces the net area a company needs, in turn, reducing rental costs — never a bad thing for a company post-pandemic. This has led to a host of new products designed to make office spaces work for every user. Our A+Product Awards winner for Furniture Systems was Fade by Pair.
Fade is a truly adaptable workspace. A sophisticated and functional office addition, Fade is fully customizable for the user. Entirely height adjustable with an array of mix-and-match components, Fade can be rearranged to suit the individual user at any time. It has a seamless waterfall edge for easily maintaining hygiene standards, and it has a simple plug-in system that keeps cable management pristine. With the option of multiple colors and privacy screens, Fade fits seamlessly into any office environment providing beautiful simplicity in its design.
Adaptability seems to be a key feature for businesses going forward — not only when it comes to the ergonomics of their furniture, but also in the aesthetics of their spaces. The fact is, no one is really sure if and how things are going to work. Each companies’ requirements will be unique, and every decision is in part, trial and error. That being said, businesses who have chosen to relocate or downsize, whether because they feel they no longer need to be city central or their previous footprint is now too big, don’t want to spend astronomical amounts on their refit only to discover in 6-months time they aren’t happy.
Acoufelt has taken this into consideration with their A+Product Awards winner, SoftenUp — a ceiling system consisting of modular acoustic paneling. Made up of individual ceiling tiles, SoftenUp is available in various depths, finishes and colors to create a dynamic ceiling design while also lowering the acoustic reverberations throughout a space. It has a drop-in install system, making it incredibly easy to place and remove. Individual tiles are easily replaced and the vast array of colors means that SoftenUp can effectively align with any brand’s pallet.
Finally, it’s safe to conclude that most everyone has become more conscious of their health and the transference of bacteria, germs and the likes. Most of us will have recognized that, pre-pandemic, we often became sick due to someone else in our office. This recognition has left many people anxious about heading back into their place of work, particularly in the winter months when there’s an increased chance of becoming unwell. In response, many product designers have been focusing on how to keep offices safe and germ-free. While hand hygiene has undoubtedly improved for most people, these designers have been looking at the source materials they are using and how to make them either easier to clean or inherently anti-microbial.
Knoll — the well know furniture manufacture — has taken to the task exceptionally. Winning our A+Product award for Fabrics & Textiles, they have manufactured an upholstery product perfect for a busy office environment. Topos is a chenille-style fabric that is coated with a Supreen® liquid barrier. Marrying cutting-edge woven and coating technologies, Topos can be used on all sorts of commercial furniture. It is wholly wipeable and resistant to almost all common disinfectants, including bleach. Unlike standard wipeable fabric, Topos does not lose its luxurious pile and texture and retains its high-quality finish.
Although the future of office life is uncertain, flexibility, adaptability and personal wellbeing are practices that appear to be pillars for the future of work-life going forward. Now heading into our second year since the pandemic began, we’re sure to see even more amazing products that will help us shape our offices to be the perfect fit for the future.