The office was the hub of the business ecosystem for decades, until the Covid-19 pandemic changed it forever. After more than two years of working remotely and in hybrid environments, we asked designers and entrepreneurs from the furniture world what the future of the physical office will be

Even before the outbreak of the global pandemic that changed the way we work, the office world was undergoing a subtle change that would later prove irreversible. Before 2020, companies were already competing to adapt to the developments imposed by digitization.

In fact, technology had long since transformed work tools into mobile devices - such as phones, laptops and tablets. The ability to work from home and the economy of self-employment were already a reality and often, even then, people went to the office or co-working spaces solely for reasons of human interaction.

This was the scenario of the prepandemic world of work. The massive lockdown that has been imposed on us and the spread of new approaches to work have accelerated a process already underway. It is therefore legitimate to ask ourselves what we expect from the office today and how the workspace will be configured in the future.

A place where you want to be

In the latest episode of the Gensler Design Exchange podcast, Liz Stern, managing partner of Mayer law firm Brown of Washington, shared his experience on the redesign of the group's offices, signed by the Gensler firm.

Mayer Brown and Gensler have defined the design principle of the workspace as 'a place where you want to be' and have decided to infuse the rooms with a welcoming atmosphere, inspired by the architecture of hospitality.

Many manufacturers are focusing on this welcoming office perspective. The designer Margherita Rui who has been collaborating for years with the Venetian company specialized in the production of systems for the Milani office also expressed herself in the same direction: "The forced closure in a few square meters during the pandemic brought out in all of us the desire for freedom and life in contact with nature, and the need to re-read our relationship with the outdoors. The green project will be a fundamental theme for the office of the future to guarantee workers the concept of comfort and hospitality more and more".

New spaces of interaction

The desk and chair of the traditional office will no longer exist, except to continue to exist in those organizations for which the fixed station is still needed.

"Today more and more work spaces coincide with living spaces", continues Margherita Rui, "we spend a lot of time at home and office meetings are limited to moments of sharing.

We are moving towards a 'abandonment' of the concept of workstation in favor of the design of dynamic meeting and discussion spaces. For this reason, the office world must respond to the growing need for exchange and participation".

As explained by Marianna Fantoni, technical director of Fantoni, a Friulian company producing office furniture and MDF panels, their research is also focusing on this topic: "We are working on what we call the 'third space'. Inside the offices, there are workstations and meeting rooms. Next to these, there are other environments that are becoming more and more relevant, such as waiting rooms, break areas or cafeteria areas, which are increasingly becoming the real heart of an office.

We are trying to translate all the needs we have seen on the market into this new area which will probably obscure the old concept of open space with fixed workstations."

The rediscovery of privacy

'Interaction' sounds wonderful but, if it involves having to suffer the responses of those who work with you to all the phone calls, sometimes it does not reach the point.

The office has learned that micro acoustic environments solve the biggest flaw of the shared office: noise. Fantoni's Acoustic Booth are a system of sheltered micro-environments for the shared office made up of sound-absorbing fabric panels. Insulating and collected, these semi-transparent protective zones offer privacy or in case of need.

The flexible office

In this still not completely clear scenario, according to the Swiss manufacturer Vitra, "working environments must be able to easily adapt to situations changing, which it goes far beyond the mere addition or removal of workstations. Rather, it translates into the ability to modify environments and their functions. The simplest solution is given by the open space, which can be structured according to changing needs. "

The office furniture systems designed by Vitra, such as, for example, Comma, are aimed at entrepreneurs who know that work does not necessarily have to be done in the office, unless a interaction with real life, people or things. They know that rental periods are shorter; contractual obligations are fewer; and that business models are ever-changing - just like teams and assignments.

UniFor, a company of the Molteni Group specialized in furnishing solutions for the workplace, also presented an open and freely configurable collection: Principles, designed by OMA.