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With the reopening of workplaces amid the sharp decline in coronavirus cases, it is evident that the pandemic has altered the world like never before. A hybrid work model has become a norm, with flexibility as the dominant undercurrent. It implies the reconfiguration of existing office spaces to align with the realities of the post-COVID world. As a matter of fact, the pandemic has prompted the rethinking of the role of office spaces as a catalyst for enabling corporate culture, talent attraction, employee engagement and lifelong learning. Furthermore, digitisation and the emergence of newer technologies have also profoundly impacted the workplace in the post-COVID world in terms of layout, design and interaction with spatial elements. It inevitably implies the widening scope of interior designing and the subsequent rise in demand for design professionals. So, if one has a flair for creativity, an eye for observation and a strong aesthetic sense for interiors, there is no dearth of opportunities in interior designing for him/her.
Below are some trends in workplace design that have reimagined the scope of work in interior design in the new normal.
Rethinking of traditional office spaces: ‘Work from anywhere and hybrid models have led to revamping conventional office spaces in terms of layout, functionality and arrangement of design elements. Under these new models, not all employees will be in the office on a given day which implies the need for fewer workstations and selected utilities. In the long run, we foresee a cubicle-based layout giving way to a pod-based layout to meet the realities of the post-COVID world.
Rise of flexible workplaces: With the demand for flexibility gaining currency amid the evolution of smart technologies and advances in building management systems, flexible workplaces will become the centrepiece of the future of work. An open office layout with dedicated private zones and pod areas wherein employees can make phone calls and work on a laptop without any distractions is foreseen to dominate the interior design scope of work. These new-age structures will not only optimise the usage of space but will also conform to the norms of privacy and physical distancing. Recently, Envisage, an architectural and interior design firm, has curated flexible and customised solutions in office space. The highlight of their design is the fluid office module consisting of bare ceilings, loose furniture, and strategic placement of MEP services to create a highly adaptable model that can be implemented quickly.
Surge in virtual collaboration: The hybrid model is here to stay, with ubiquitous Internet connectivity enabling virtual collaboration at the workplace. From Zoom, Skype to Google Meet, there is no dearth of collaborative software and tools at the disposal of the Gen Z workforce. These tools somewhat blur the boundaries for the geographically scattered workforce, save time and resources and enhance the workforce’s efficiency to boost business outcomes. They also help gather valuable insights to personalise face-to-face interactions and expand their reach. Handheld devices, tablets and sleek portable notebooks are expected to replace bulky laptops and mobile phones in the new normal. Moreover, the advent of the metaverse has added a new dimension altogether to collaboration. It will drastically alter how companies work and interact with each other and foster formidable partnerships.
Contactless technology to assuage wellness concerns: Touch-free technology in offices will become the mainstay for addressing hygiene concerns and could be adopted in places involving high touch points such as elevators, security access, etc. Contactless thermal screening, wider use of sensors, face recognition and voice recognition technologies will become increasingly common. It will not only minimise the transmission risk of the disease but also lead to optimal space utilisation and low maintenance costs for offices.
Biophilic office designs: Biophilic design focuses on incorporating outside natural elements into interiors with an aim to ensure wellness, boost positivity and enhance aesthetics. Companies are increasingly realising the significance of biophilic interior spaces to boost productivity and promote the mental well-being of their employees. Some of these biophilic elements include the use of natural features like wood and stone to give an 'outdoor' look, the provision of open spaces with comfortable seating, the introduction of indoor plants and many more.
Recently, Gartner unveiled its Centre of Excellence in Gurugram, which exemplifies the company's commitment to holistic wellness. Designed by Space Matrix, this LEED and WELL-certified workplace has centralised and decentralised air purification systems and IAQ monitors for real-time monitoring of air quality. Every workstation has been designed in a way to ensure a healthy exposure to sunlight and biophilic elements.
Flexible furniture: An obvious manifestation of flexibility in hybrid offices is through furniture. Traditional workstations are giving way to sleek, ergonomic designs which ensure comfort and physical well-being. The demand for modular furniture that caters to build-to-suit requirements has increased manifold. Additionally, workplaces are increasingly adopting couches and armchairs with throw pillows in their lobbies and common areas to serve as relaxation zones.
Emergence of dedicated recreation spaces: The work from home amid the pandemic has reaffirmed the significance of work-life balance as the key to achieving holistic well-being. This has fuelled the rise of dedicated recreation zones in offices. Such spaces make work fun and engaging and promote a sense of camaraderie among the workforce. Companies have warmed up to the idea of leisure spaces characterised by plush carpeting, cosy seating and warm lighting. Some office spaces have already incorporated a separate zone for games such as table tennis and pool, as well as separate chill-out zones where employees can take a power nap, do yoga or simply talk to their peers.
Usage of neutral colour palettes in interiors: The usage of light colours such as a combination of greys and greens, relaxing tones and material palettes have gained currency. With more workplaces embracing off-white, tan and beige shades, it is evident that a neutral colour palette is here to stay, exemplifying a connection with nature and a sense of optimism. To achieve a prudent mix, designers are increasingly relying on the company's colour palette to achieve coherent branding.
Surge in interior design opportunities: COVID-19 has provided a fillip to the demand for interior designers to enhance the functionality and aesthetics of buildings and landscapes. It has also fuelled new trends and sub-disciplines in this field, implying a wider scope of work in interior design. The consolidation of the sector in favour of large brands is underway, with the ultimate objective of ensuring a superior experience. Best interior design colleges have revamped the curriculum to incorporate new trends such as sustainability, Make in India, Home automation, and offer seamless programme delivery through a hybrid model across India.
The pandemic has proved to be an inflexion curve for the design industry, highlighting the importance of wellness, sustainability and flexibility. With firms increasingly prioritising the human experience as the ultimate goal, designers are experimenting and exploring novel ways to achieve this objective.
A testimony to a contemporary workplace design is the corporate office of a realty firm Paras Builtech in Gurugram. Designed by groupDCA, the ergonomic layout is eponymous with collaboration and engagement. Upon entry into the reception, one is mesmerised by dark colours, plush upholstery, and exquisite decor. Crystal chandeliers add to the elegance of the lounge, and the colour palette of the black and blue are in sharp contrast to the heavy wooden panelling. The reception gives way to the open, modern workplace characterised by linear pathways. The salient feature of this rooftop office is its neatly-manicured terrace which is accessible from every corner of the workplace. Additionally, planters and Champa trees accentuate the beauty of the rooftop office and reinforce a connection with Nature. Planters also adorn each desk exuding the warmth and freshness of the corporate environment. Against the backdrop of the terrace are multiple lounges at the workplace interspersed with phone booths for private conversations. The acoustical fins are mounted onto the ceiling to eliminate ambient sounds and lend privacy to the interiors. The Managing Director's office is equally striking, combining the use of organic materials and decorative elements, like the crystal chandeliers and antique mirrors. Done in all-white, it is furnished in warm wood tones and leather that add to the luxe touch. Based on the design concept of fluidity and openness, the corporate office reinforces the experience the brand offers.
Such new-age workplaces are now competing with home offices and office hubs, further widening the scope of interior designing in hybrid offices to achieve productivity, maximise functionality, ensure cost-effective operations and boost organisational outcomes.
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