Prior to the pandemic, most offices were designed to fit as many people into the floor space as possible, says Tim Larson, Chief Creative Officer of the Unispace Group and the head of its Asia business. Now, with the hybrid model, they know they don’t need dedicated desks for every employee and it has allowed companies to shrink their office footprint, he says.

At the same time, says the experience strategist, who is a specialist in workspace and retail space design, because the style of work has changed, a lot of business are looking at what high-end hotels are doing and those designs are permeating into offices. “High-end hospitality design is blending with office space design,” says Larson, who has led projects for Microsoft, Nike, Boeing, TCS and HP India among others.

As an example, he says, earlier there used to be very specific customer-facing luxurious spaces and more work-men like employee spaces. “Those boundaries are blurring now,” he says, describing how a lot of companies in the past would have separate client or customer halls where the walls would talk about the company, showcasing the value and heritage.

HP India’s office in Gurgaon is a good example of the new blurring of boundaries, he says. It is combining a space that can be adapted for customer visits but opens up for employees too, driving more value for the space. “In the traditional workplan, we have created a living studio that allows employees to enjoy spaces for collaboration, but it is all intersected with high-touch interactive spaces for customers.”

Tim Larson, Chief Creative Officer, Unispace Group, and the head of its Asia business

Tim Larson, Chief Creative Officer, Unispace Group, and the head of its Asia business

All these changes are also happening he says, because employees are very particular about where they want to work. They want to work in places where their wellbeing is looked after, and where the values match. And as the war to recruit and retain talent mounts, ‘office peacocking’ – a term that explains the lavish attention paid to make workspaces very attractive and inviting - will only get more exaggerated.

The office of tomorrow

Larson who looks at employee behaviour when he designs spaces, says that offices are humanising to meet the divergent needs. Wellness is important for employees, so organisations are ensuring good lighting and connection with fresh air. Inclusivity is important, so gender neutral restrooms are being added. The latest is paying attention to neurodiversity. Organisations like Microsoft are paying attention to people with ADHD and other neuro diverse issues. Signages are being put on floors. Some offices are adding prayer rooms.

Employees are also becoming particular about organisation values. So things like sustainability are being communicated in the office space through recycling initiatives.

“Colours and art are very important in putting forward the values of the company,” adds Larson, describing a project they did where they put up art work done using garbage by a group of women in central America. “We have also done Art for Impact programmes where employees’ diversity was talked about. The art was created by the LGBTQ community. These help employees have a connection and belonging.”

The other change that is happening says Larson is that many organisations are reconsidering the campus model as they want their offices to be located in a place that employees can easily access. Some of the newer offices are being built in coordination with residential options.

Co-creation and culture

“One of the things we talk about a lot is that even though we are designers, we cannot manufacture culture. We cannot create a space that says here is what we think your culture is. Rather we let employees hack a space and let it represent the culture.”

Larson cites the example of the Spotify office in New York that they have just done. “Within their business, they have music services, artist management services and a legal department. If you go to the legal floor, it looks very formal, but if you go to the artist management space, it has guitars and autographs, and is very different. So the idea is to let employees create their culture so that when they come to work, it feels it represents them,” he says.

The field of office design is becoming much more human-centred, he concludes.