If ever there’s been a time for workplaces to be flexible it’s now. The pandemic has forced a new way upon us all. Here Caroline Till from futures agency, FranklinTill explores how ‘The Fluid Office’ can help employers and end-users to adapt.

This is a concept we’ve developed together - brought to life through a series of outstanding case studies in our Storeys journal.

Employees have long been crying out for more flex. From Tarkett’s very first wave of ‘Worklife’ research it has been far and away the number one perk sought globally across the 9,000 office users surveyed.

While the most forward-thinking organisations may have already embraced initiatives to help improve work life balance, nothing could have prepared the world for just how far we’d have to flex in all aspects of our lives.

When flex isn’t enough

The flexibility conversation, however, has tended to centre on having more control over when and where we work. How we work - within the workplace setting - isn’t always a consideration.

So, we ask, how can design help shape workplace experiences that are as agile and adaptable as the workforce has proven to be? Focusing on making work, work better for employees emerging from isolation with differing priorities and a renewed sense of work purpose.

Fluidity is the way forward

As offices thoughtfully reconfigure their floors to encourage social distancing - while trying to inject the same energy levels with lesser occupancy - architects and designers are considering the impact on commercial design and how it could and should evolve.

At this moment in time the priority has to be safety. But as things settle and people reflect on lockdown and lessons learned there is going to be more pressure on employers to not just enable flexibility (that should surely be a given) but to create far more fluid workplaces.

This means being able to seamlessly adapt to increasingly diverse and ever-changing employee needs. Creating an environment that caters for an energetic mix of ages, cultures and genders. And, by doing so, allowing for individual working styles and preferences.

Space to breathe and succeed

Tarkett’s earlier research track highlighted the diverse needs of the office working population with:

  • 19% wanting to work collaboratively
  • 32% preferring independent working
  • 42% equally as happy doing both

Open plan settings are automatically thought of as being more collaborative. Pre-Covid, less than a third cited this as their ideal environment. Research carried out in June 2020, in the midst of the public health crisis, showed that nearly half (49%) would now opt for ‘open plan’. In Europe, this has increased by a staggering 75%.

This shows that apart from the need to work collaboratively as human beings we want to feel connected and come together in real life. The longstanding design dilemma was how to foster social collaboration without compromising on privacy, concentration and even allowing for opportunity to pause.

In the ‘new norm’ it’s about using design to influence behaviours that keep people safe and support a variety of working styles and individual preferences.

Research carried out in June 2020, in the midst of the public health crisis, showed that nearly half (49%) of office workers would now opt for ‘open plan’. In Europe, this has increased by a staggering 75%.
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Why hackable wins-out

Allowing for personalisation of space for individuals and groups alike demands an unprecedented level of design flexibility that can accommodate everything from focused work, to an informal meeting, brainstorm or TED-style lecture.

This means conjuring dynamic - even makeshift - arrangements that embrace impermanence and adaptability. Design needs to be malleable and reconfigurable, movable and shape-shifting. This is what we refer to as hackable space and it’s more relevant than ever.

In the office it might look like low-fi, utilitarian materials, such as plywood or exposed fixings and clearly sign-posted moveable elements - extending an invitation to ‘hack the space’. This puts users in control and encourages ownership of the workplace.

Ultimately, hackable wins-out because no-one better understands how space needs to adapt than those operating within it. The collaborative contract has to be between designer and end-user.

See how innovative designers, architects and companies are already embracing fluidity through hackable design features on pages 52-85.

To further explore ‘The Fluid Workplace’ and other micro-trends that are impacting on this movement, download Storeys.

Caroline Till Co-founder, FranklinTill Full bio and articles


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