Destination unknown: the continuing evolution of the ‘new normal’

As organisations strive to create hard-and-fast solutions for the future of work, a new report explores the idea of the future of work as a continuous journey of change and transition

Adaptability has been the key word of the pandemic – individuals and organisations alike have been forced to adapt quickly and persevere in the face of unexpected and continuous change over the past 18 months.

This is the key theme of a new report by UK workplace designers MoreySmith, which builds its October 2020 paper ‘The New Normal’ by exploring the continuing evolution of the workplace more than a year on from the onset of the pandemic. The new report called The Evolving Normal’ explores working life through a survey of 1,100 people and from the insights of MoreySmith clients and projects.

The report aims to look at the evolving nature of work and workplaces. It focuses on the core themes of workplace change during the pandemic: socialising, wellbeing and personal choice. The survey results actively reinforce these themes: 61 per cent of people claim they miss socialising and 57 per cent say they miss collaborating in the office, while 35 per cent want better bike storage and shower facilities to accommodate new methods of commuting, and 58 per cent of people say they would like to work in a place that offers agile and flexible work options.

Designing for choice

If the workplace of the future is constantly in a state of beta, work styles and workplace design need to be agile and adaptable to keep up. The survey found that 57 per cent of people would like to move to a four-day week, while 66 per cent want flexible hours. These results ring true with current research in the industry – the majority of people want the choice, autonomy and flexibility to work how and where they want.

Designing for people

Office designers have long since learned that the ‘one size fits all’ approach rarely makes for exceptional workplace experiences. Offices serve different purposes and design satisfies different needs for different people at different times in the week.

The report argues that the opportunity for future space design will be to cater to emerging needs, rather than employer or departmental goals. This means that workspaces need to include a wide variety of settings as a basic need for employees – gone are the days of ‘vanilla solutions’ for every employee.

Designing for surprise

One of the biggest pitfalls of the pandemic has been the absence of spontaneous conversations and interactions. The report found that the future optimal work environment will be a blend of office-based and flexible working as this combination is essential to make room for serendipity.

‘It will be essential for companies to make room for serendipity…’

As well as spaces for contemplation and concentration, we now need to create space and time for the unexpected – whether that be chance encounters or unexpected spaces which awake the imagination.

The report concludes with a clear message from Linda Morey-Burrows, principle director of MoreySmith, who said: ‘It’s clear people still want to come to a workplace forum, for creative collaboration, social connection, exemplary facilities and escape from domestic frustrations. However, to attract the new culture of entitlement and the rumble of revolution demanding changes to how and where we work, the office needs to be much better than before’.

The results of the 2021 survey point to workers and workplace in a transitional state. Navigating such volatile times can be unsettling for many organisations when plotting their path for the future. However, the report encourages organisations to not strive for a final destination, but instead to view the future of working as a continuous journey of change, agility and adaptation.

‘The Evolving Normal’ report was released on 6 September 2021. Download the full report here.
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