The impact of COVID-19 is apparent everywhere we look, and the interior design industry is no exception. Whether designing home interiors, office spaces, retail experiences or hospitality venues; floorplans, material selection, and how we furnish these environments will be altered. More important than ever before, how we strategically design spaces will be critical for creating the right work experiences to facilitate the way we need to work – whether it is driving collaboration and innovation or individual work style practices. The following is an exploration of how interior design will shift as we rethink our workspaces.
Redesign the Workplace of the Future
Throughout 2019, many predicted the extinction of individual cubicles as the need for spaces which allowed for open collaboration became the new way of working. In this workplace of the future, the lines between work modes blurred in response to the open plan, creating little distinction between personal focus space and collaborative and social areas. However, in the post-COVID world, we will see workspaces transform the office environment to help facilitate to an anywhere, anytime, any space environment.
More specifically, workspaces of the future will no longer be designed purely around the number of employees needing a ‘desk’ during the designated 9 -5 work hours. Instead, what interior designers will have to consider is the way that we need interact with our workspace, putting more emphasis on the design, furniture, lighting, etc.
It is worth noting that during COVID while we saw many employees transition to the remote work environments quickly and easily, a recent research study from Boston Consulting Group suggested that the home environment will continue to be a place where employees will work on the “heads down work” with a greater focus on user privacy and comfort. While this is great for individual tasks, businesses have recognized that home working culture does not overtly support collaboration, which is key for innovation and creativity. With this in mind, the office environment begins to have a reframed purpose and objective.
In a post-COVID world, the workplace will not go away entirely. There are some jobs, perhaps due to the confidential nature of the work or the equipment needed (particularly in the pharmaceutical and engineering worlds) that do require isolated office spaces. Taking this principle, you can see that the workplace is designed based on the objectives / needs of the worker.
Thinking more broadly, interior workspaces of the future will need to be flexible spaces that can be easily modified to accommodate more or less individuals will be the key to smart design. Particularly with the rise of remote working, the need for the office space is being reconsidered, and perhaps the purpose will be more around facilitating collaboration and creativity.
Modular furnishings will be considered, as enabling users to collaborate while creating a socially distant space will also become more important than ever. At Konica Minolta, we are in the process of creating our first Global R&D Open Lab in the USA, at our Ramsey headquarters. Prior to the pandemic, we recognized that the workspaces and how they are designed has an enormous impact on the way people interaction and collaborate. A brief conversation at the watercooler for example, has the power to transform a project, purely through the simple sharing of information or insights that could have been overlooked if not for that person to person interaction. With this in mind, we’ve designed our Open Labs in such a way where the furniture AND walls are moveable. We’re looking to encourage our team of innovators to flex their workspace based on the projects they’re working on – depending on whether they need to work within a team or individually.
Designing spaces becomes even more important than ever as being a way to facilitate how we need to work on projects. Another such example is within the Creative Services team at Konica Minolta – we have been known for taking over our Head of Marcom’s office within our campus at our Ramsey HQ and using it as a “war room” as we debate creative treatment for events and campaigns. While a space for a dedicated team, it is also interesting to learn what other passersby may see when peering into our war room, what messages it communicates to them. So being able to flex work spaces will become a key feature in the future world of work.
Having said that, the need for traditional cubicles or assigned desks will never truly go away. The office will further transform into a place that is more focused on collaboration, socialization and teambuilding, leading to increased social space, amenities and modular conference spaces.
To establish a safer workplace, materials designers specify will also shift to those that are non-porous, easy to clean, and reduce the likelihood of infection. Finishes such as fabric walls and carpeting will decrease in popularity, giving way to hard surface finishes and less penetrable materials such as concrete, vinyl and leather.
Tech and Interiors
As employees slowly return to the office, the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to disrupt the office environment. Commercial interior designers must continually reassess the work environment to accommodate the ways in which technology is shifting and enhancing where and how work happens. Contact-free automated receptionist kiosks, along with advanced temperature detection will require the designer to revisit the lobby areas, creating space for visitor access to this new technology. Hands-free access to lighting and doors will become the mandate rather than a luxury.
“Six feet apart” takes on a new meaning when we are considering work spaces where collaboration is expected. Meeting planning and attendance technology will become more critical in reinforcing the newly established safety protocols for room capacity.
The new virtual workplace will require audio visual technology that is more robust, efficient and effective than ever before. Furniture for commercial spaces will be more focused to respond to individual users, including smart desks and furniture with integrated technology to support workplace mobility.
When developing the workplace strategy plan for Konica Minolta’s Customer Engagement Center in Ramsey New Jersey, we asked ourselves “what does the workplace of the future look like?” “How will people work and interact?” This modern and inspiring space exemplifies how the psychology of color and the infusion of natural elements, combined with advanced technology and physical flexibility and modularity work together harmoniously to create a smart environment that is not only beautiful, but works for now and the future.
The Color of a Brighter Future
Now more than ever the psychology of color is playing a critical role in interior design. The pandemic has prompted a feeling of unrest, angst and concern. To counterbalance this effect, designers are now implementing colors that instill a sense of peace, encouragement and comfort. Hues that imitate the sensation of being in nature promote internal peace in an age where mental and physical well-being are critical.
Bold, brighter colorways are also being incorporated into the mood boards of many designers. Brighter ranges of teal, pink and yellow promote a subconscious positive outlook on the future.
We don’t know how long the influences of the COVID will affect our work and personal surroundings, but we do know that isolation is not an option. Creating spaces that allow people to learn, collaborate and interact with peers and colleagues is key to encouraging personal growth, creativity and corporate culture. Design is an ever-evolving aspect in all things visible and I am excited to see what the future holds.