By Mark Alcorn

I REMEMBER sitting at home two years ago wondering if the industry in which I had spent more than three decades was going to collapse. Workplace design, the area in which my company specialises, was no longer in demand: it looked like home working, complete with video calls, was the future.

I was particularly concerned about the livelihoods and wellbeing of our younger designers, some of whom live alone in rented flats, and how we could best support them.

Thankfully for us, the novelty of working from home every day began to wear off and organisations began to look at how they could get staff safely back to the office.

Time away from our desks caused all of us to re-evaluate why being in the same space is so important and the answer, it seems, is collaboration, creativity and companionship.

Whereas before "working from home" was often considered slacking, employers now appreciate that there are benefits, including the concentration that can result from fewer interruptions from colleagues.

Managers now trust employees to get the work done wherever they are and, as a result, many of our clients are giving their employees the option to continue work at home two or three days a week, enabling people to enjoy the advantages of flexibility and resulting in a reduction of office and desk space (we’ve seen the former by as much as 30 per cent).

When people do come to the office it’s to work with others and, interestingly, one result of the pandemic has been to free us up in our movement around the office. We’re finding that employers are looking at introducing more relaxed and comfortable areas, a bit more akin to home, where working together is intuitive. We work and play on the same devices and workplaces are reflecting these blended behaviours.

Much more thought is being put into creating less rigid and formal environments where furniture – be it mobile tables, theatre-style, tiered benches and portable screens – can be configured differently depending on what’s going on. Research shows that the more choice employees have over how and where they work, the more productive they are.

This new agile way of working still needs space for concentrated working and quiet pods and "Zoom rooms" for one or two people and are becoming a standard design feature.

Attracting and retaining staff, particularly younger people, now plays a huge part in workplace design, as does well-being. "Biophilic design", and by that we mean bringing the outdoors in, be it through plants and/or the use of natural materials and colours, for instance, is being increasingly asked of us as interior architects and designers.

In the old days productivity in the minds of many translated into requests to fit as many folk into a room as possible. Now, we’re being asked to design spaces to suit people’s behaviour and activity. The pandemic has changed so many things. I would argue that it’s changed workplace design for the better.

Mark Alcorn is Managing Director, C2 Concepts