Can t wait to ditch your home office post-COVID? The future of workplace desi...

"Part of how design can drive people back into the office is by really reflecting on what has become sacred to individuals as they’ve worked from home for a year."

Before 2020, who would have guessed that it was possible to get work done at home from the middle of the playroom? Or find inspiration while seated at the kitchen table? Prior to COVID-19, office workers were loyal to their standing desks and dual monitors—located in a space that didn’t double as a guest bedroom. But with a COVID-19 vaccine rolling out, and employees having grown accustomed to working remotely, companies are wondering how to balance the desire for flexibility with the need to be in an office for collaboration. By harnessing the power of good design, business owners are counting on attracting employees back into the workplace.

Benson Hill, a food technology company that was the first in St. Louis to receive funding from Google, recently worked with architecture and design firmArcturisto transform its headquarters on the campus of theDonald Danforth Plant Science Centerin Creve Coeur. The space features natural colors—indigo, green, teal—and such finishes as walnut and clay tile as a nod to the company’s work in agriculture technology. The lighting can change color temperature (from warm to cool shades) to relate to the varying color temperatures of the sun. Overhead fixtures mimic the look of irrigation pipes, and the labs receive 100 percent fresh air thanks to state-of-the-art circulation (much appreciated in a post-COVID world). Off the company’s kitchen is an inviting flexible lounge space that feels intimate enough to work in solo or can be modified to accommodate 350 for a town hall–style meeting. Stairs provide an architectural break between the office and lab areas. Labs feature observation windows to watch researchers at work.

Megan Ridgeway is the president of Arcturis. She says that integral to office design in 2021 is a “workplace of choice.” “Part of how design can drive people back into the office is by really reflecting on what has become sacred to individuals as they’ve worked from home for a year,” she says. That might mean carving out rooms for heads-down focused work, spaces that are large enough for collaboration but can still allow for social distancing, and a wellness room where an employee can escape for five minutes to meditate or drink a cup of coffee. Post-COVID, Ridgeway would characterize that as a necessity more than an amenity.

Benson Hill’s CEO, Matt Crisp,recognized that key to a successful office design would be giving his employees control over how they feel at the office. “If you have this monotonous area in which they work, and they go to various parts of it, and they basically are in another version of where they were before, that’s not cool,” he says. “I think it creates almost a claustrophobia. The diversity of the spaces that you provide allow people to channel whatever energy it is that’s most productive to them and most collaborative to them.” Unique to this project is that Crisp wanted an office design that would draw employees away from their desks. “We succeed when people innovate,” he says, “and some of the best innovation occurs when they collaborate.”

One way Arcturis was able to create that diversity of space and encourage working together is through the use of color theory. Four rooms at Benson Hill are enveloped in a different color: burnt orange, indigo, deep green, and clay. Each color evokes particular emotions and employees have started to gravitate toward these colors because of the way they make them feel. Crisp, for instance, likes to book meetings in the orange conference room. “You feel like you’re in there to do something really important, innovative,” he says. Arcturis is in the process of collecting data from employees to decipher which rooms they choose for certain tasks.

Architects and interior designers are also learning that, post-COVID, workplace design extends outside the office walls. Brad Liebman, the director of interior design at the architecture-engineering firmHOK, says that one of the things he hears from clients is that it’s all about flexibility. And if a company allows employees to work from home two to three days a week, they want to outfit their homes with the same technology that exists in the office.

“We all have the right technology to get us through right now, but is it the best? Is it what’s in the office?” Liebman says. The same goes for furnishings. “There are a lot of people who have been sitting in an uncomfortable chair for almost a year.” Liebman thinks that these amenities will help companies attract and retain talent.

For companies that hire remote workers, Ridgeway encourages them to think about how to incorporate the new hires into the company culture. Arcturis brand strategists compile boxes with essential items that encapsulate the culture of a company and mail them to remote employees. “I think the pandemic has underscored that our role as design professionals is to craft experiences,” she says.

Employers are also thinking about experiences within the physical office. Jessica Waite, a project manager at HOK, says that the biggest request she hears from clients is a desire to create a space that supports the company culture. When it’s safe to do so, clients want employees back in the office, “not just to get people’s tasks done, but to really grow them as employees.”

As an example, Liebman points to HOK’s own office in St. Louis. One room features double-height windows that look out onto the Arch, extra standing desks, and lounge furniture: “It’s just the space where everybody can gather together,” he says.



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