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The Future of Work is Flexible: Reimagining Office Designs and Strategies to Thrive in Our New Reality


The Future of Work is Flexible: Reimagining Office Designs and Strategies to Thrive in Our New Reality

With the Covid-19 vaccine finally making its way through the country, bringing staff back into the workplace is at the forefront of companies’ minds. This has continued to push conversations from when staff will come back to the office, to how.

Archetypes of the workplace

As companies explore the future of the return to the workplace, it has challenged new ways of thinking – how the office will adapt and change, what will be its purpose, and how can it become better for staff.  However, how businesses approach the workplace evolution will be different. From conservative approaches to pushing the boundaries, three mindsets have emerged as we look at the future of the workplace.

Traditionalists – cultures grounded around in-person environments with low investment in virtual working and higher investment in physical work environments.

Progressives – cultures that are flexible and promote a hybrid work model with employees being comfortable working remotely or in offices. Investment for this model will equally be split in the virtual and built environments to support hybrid work models.

Visionaries – cultures encouraging autonomy and remote work with employees who come into the office as needed. This includes a significant spend in technology to enhance the virtual environment and to monitor productivity and performance.

Regardless of your future workplace strategy – scaling, adapting, or staying the same, the pandemic has altered the real estate landscape as we know it. Social distancing, sanitization processes, working from home, and virtual communication are here to stay, even if the vaccine turns out to be everything we’ve hoped for. While we’ve had no choice but to accept this new reality, many occupiers and landlords are struggling with “what’s the best next move” for their space.

As we navigate these unchartered workplace waters, flexibility has emerged as a key player. Office strategy and design will need to be flexible to support the changing needs of staff and companies both in the short and long-term. The question remains, what does flexibility look like in the future workplace?

Riding the Evolutionary Forces

As the saying goes, “change is the only constant,” and while inevitable, change gives us the opportunity to grow and evolve. How and where we work is different from a year ago, which has influenced changes from workplace strategies to business models and processes, to workforces. This has caused decision makers to pause on making long-term real estate commitments until we better understand the lasting effects of the pandemic.

Driving regional and industry trends

As real estate shifts and trends begin to emerge, many will play out differently depending on their location. By the end of 2021 it’s expected businesses will return to the office at a reduced capacity, however, how this will be done is the question.

The pandemic has accelerated an already growing migration of knowledge workers from cities like New York and California to less-expensive locales. Raleigh, N.C., and Austin, Texas, are among the boomtowns attracting young workers. These cool, vibrant cities offer culinary experiences, cultural and social scenes that appeal to young professionals who enjoy an urban lifestyle but find large metro areas too dense or expensive.

The recent growth of these midsize cities shows the pandemic and work-from-home policies aren’t undermining all of urban America. It illustrates a reshaping of what many companies, families and individuals are now looking for, a location that is more affordable, has more space, and access to job opportunities and talent.  Several recent high-profile corporate relocation announcements suggest companies are inclined to follow this migration.

Solutions for “the next best move”

What should be your next move? Research is saying space will be used differently and we still don’t fully know how Covid-19 will influence office use and behaviors in the future. Before making permanent, long-term decisions, companies are trialing office strategies to see how their people are working in a new environment.

Pilot spaces and employee surveys are a good way to learn what will work best for your people. Companies are starting to accelerate these programs, repurposing the workplace to align with work modes and conducting 60-day utilization studies to see if these new workplace designs are effective.  Some actions may include improvements to office décor, an increase in collaborative hubs, and bringing back some private offices or quiet areas, providing staff with a place to go to work and build relationships.

Occupiers with larger real estate portfolios may adopt strategies like maintaining the hub location but adding the spokes (hub & spoke model). This allows them to expand their footprint, keeping their CBD presence, while providing staff with much-craved collaboration, culture, and connection in spoke locations. We’re even seeing C-suite focused hubs emerging to support board related tasks, client meetings, and leadership-driven activities.

The impact of transformational technology on workplace design

With this fundamental shift to incorporate flexibility, transformational technology is going to play a critical role. Firms have already adopted this status quo- leveraging digital tools to improve business operations and communication. As technology continues to power collaboration in the workplace, from Microsoft Teams video meetings, to AI wearables and VR presentations to smart whiteboards, it’s likely work styles are going to shift into more team-oriented environments.

In turn, offices will need to be outfitted to support in-person and remote workers, providing them with the technology and space to seamlessly connect. Leadership communication and change management will play an essential role in navigating the return to the workplace. Outlining clear protocols and processes can guard against burnout, help manage meetings and communication expectations (in-person and virtual), and coordinate teams to make sure they are driving the right outcomes.

As digital innovations continue to emerge, virtual sharing and collaborating will increase, causing reimagined horizons, like a world without email, creating monumental changes in the workplace.

Meeting the pace of change

With the current real estate landscape and continued disruption, there is still uncertainty about what the future workplace will look like. Partnering with a company that has an agile and flexible end-to-end approach to workplace creation, can empower smarter and responsive decision making to meet the ever-changing needs of businesses and their people.

Propeller, a workplace framework, provides stability and a solution for companies’ next real estate move. Using data, the model can help outline what teams’ experiences should be in the office and at home, from purpose and work modes, to behaviors and culture. Whether it’s a long-term commitment to remote work, embracing a flexible model, or taking a wait-and-see approach, this workplace strategy can help outline the best next step.


Ryan leads the Americas region, managing the United States and Latin America. With more than 20 years of experience in the industry, Ryan has led teams to execute complex workplace projects, driven global initiatives, and redefined Unispace standards. With a strong knowledge of local and global markets, he brings his strategic vision to drive growth and improve operational excellence across all aspects of the business.