The Slow Office: a new anti-striving approach after the pandemic?

Covid-19 has challenged, critiqued and disrupted everything we know about the world of work. But this is only the beginning of the conversation according to a new report from Morey Smith

2020 – the year when flexible working, virtual teams and digital transformation were no longer just ambiguous concepts for the future but an immediate reality. While many organisations were previously reluctant to make dramatic changes for fear of being too disruptive to employees and their productivity, the crisis of 2020 pushed them boldly into the future of work.

Workplace designers Morey Smith describe what the ‘new normal’ workplace might look like in the post-pandemic era in their report ‘The New Normal: Research, survey and a look into the future of the workplace post Covid-19’. The report, co-authored with Trevor Hardy, surveys the firm’s clients across different disciplines and industries to gain an understanding of the developing attitudes, concerns and challenges of returning to the workplace and the future of the office itself.

Three key shifts are outlined at the beginning of the report: the office is an essential hub away from the home; wellbeing has become a prominent factor in daily life and employers should make a conscious effort to support that; and people are pursuing autonomy and a more valuable balance between their work, social and personal lives.

Changing the gear

Perhaps one of the most notable findings from the report is the notion of slowing down the office. Before Covid-19 organisations were obsessed with optimising performance and productivity, the growth of the business, and treating employees like cogs in a machine who can constantly churn out results. Now people want to change gear and move to a slower lane.

‘There will be a movement to anti-striving…’

As more conscious capitalism gains ground in boardrooms, an emerging philosophy will translate into a more mindful office environment. The pre Covid-19 office was designed to mirror fast-paced urban life and the mindset of growth and productivity. Now people crave more safety, security and serenity – and design needs to reflect that change. This will see the rise of more nature, balance and community in the post-pandemic workplace.

A place for pressure relief

Hand in hand with the movement to slow the office down, there will be a challenge to the unrelenting growth mindset as an aspiration for companies and workers. Humans do not have infinite physical energy and material resources, and this realisation is triggering a movement towards ‘anti-striving’. While this term may seem negative to business, it is just turning the focus away from constantly optimising and growing and allowing an opportunity for play and decompression. As well as creating spaces for productivity and growth, the new enhanced workplace of tomorrow will also provide space and time to relieve the pressure.

Authenticity at work

As well as returning to a slower paced office, employees will also be encouraged to bring their whole selves to work. As the move to working from home has severed the divide between work and home, when employees return people will require a duality in space with elements of home and office life in the workplace. Change in design will include moving from performance driven environments to empathy driven ones. These spaces will cater to the emerging needs of employees and include areas for social interaction, recognition, learning, wellbeing, quiet or creative stimulation.

The sensing office

As well as moving towards a more people-centric workplace, one trend that has been accelerated amid Covid-19 is the explosion of office technology. The report highlights that the office of the future could act like a wearable device which can anticipate our needs and wellbeing as we work through the day. From monitoring blood sugar and ordering food to recording your movements and suggesting social time, the office could create an entirely personalised experience for every employee.

As the research shows, there is no single answer, and no definitive formula for success. However, this report does provide many starting points for organisations to begin the conversation about what the future of their office should look like.

The world of work has taken a deep breath and paused this year to allow companies to think about how they want to move forward as more mindful, ethical and sustainable organisations.

View the full Morey Smith report here.
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