computer monitor, office desk and chair

What Will The Office of the Future Look Like?

Arjun Kaicker, co-head of analytics and insights at Zaha Hadid Architects, reveals upcoming workplace design trends.

Density and distancing

Expect lower densities in open plan workspaces, meeting areas and amenity spaces. Furniture arrangements will promote social distancing.

Some industries might move back to individual offices for staff. But returning to higher dividers between desks—reversing a decades-long trend towards greater openness in the workplace—is more likely, Kaicker says. Think glass or plexiglass partitions that create physical but not visual separation, support collaboration, and reduce noise and distraction. Physical barriers could be switchable from transparent to opaque, depending on whether someone wants a feeling of openness or privacy.

Desks

Desks will likely become larger, or at least stop shrinking, providing more separation between people. Hot-desking, a trend in which employees aren’t assigned a specific desk, will continue among companies that already use it, with more distancing and frequent sanitization. But organizations will think much harder before adopting these shared workspaces.

Seating

Companies have an opportunity to create seating charts based on complementary skills, interests and collaboration needs—possibly assisted by AI algorithms that help match people to their best neighbors. “Most collaboration in the workplace happens between people who sit near each other, and getting this right can be one of the greatest tools in encouraging effective collaboration and idea sharing, as well as contributing to staff satisfaction and career development,” Kaicker says. 

Surfaces

These will be anti-microbial or easy-to-clean surfaces to help reduce the potential transmission of disease, including the common cold and seasonal flu.

Touchless technology

Our offices could get smart with a little help from AI: When an employee approaches a desk, the furniture could recognize them and move to the height they prefer for that time of day, as well as adjust lighting, temperature or privacy. Alternately, these could be controlled with a voice command.

We’ll see more apps that open windows, pull down blinds and control lighting. Elevators could use facial-recognition technology to bring you to your floor. “Elevator buttons and door handles may become a thing of the past in offices,” Kaicker says.

Photo by Martin Prescott/Getty Images