The Rise of the Flexible, Holistic Office

Photo by Nastu Abootalebi.

There are immense waves of change taking effect in functional planning, since it is driven, at its foundation, by how people interact with spaces and one another. 

The open plan office, so in demand for a time, represented a dynamic and engaged team. However, the reality was that the team were often inundated with noise and visual clutter and less productive due to ongoing distraction without privacy.

Flexible, adaptive, responsive

The open plan is beginning to shift toward a more flexible, reconfigurable plan, and the shift was underway before the pandemic disrupted the world.

“The pendulum away from open office to flexible spaces was already starting to swing pre-pandemic. We were seeing the growth of spaces that supported a range of work styles, from micro-enclosures, known as telephone booths or privacy rooms, to quiet rooms for two to four people to work as a hive mind, to collaborative spaces with casual seating, including lounge furniture, mobile screens and boards and even the quirky ‘rocking horse’ stools,” says Ann Squires Ferguson of Western Design + Build.

Demountable wall systems are ideal, allowing the reconfiguring of rooms without the mess and waste of traditional construction methods. A single large meeting room can be divided into 3 private offices overnight. Stand-alone privacy screens and enclosures are easy to purchase online.

The public health protocols that felt so strange to navigate a year ago have now been adopted as Standard Operating Procedure throughout the business world. Reception desks now have plexi screens, seats in shared spaces are all placed 2m apart and partitions have been added and extended on working benches and between desks. 

“The open floor plan of the past now appears more sinister – exposure, even implied, leaves us all with a feeling of discomfort. We want protection; we want to feel secure and supported,” says Squires Ferguson.

Clean spaces

In addition to floor plans moving in a more flexible direction, spaces are being simplified and organized to promote cleanliness. Some designers have seen an increase in demand for bathrooms situated at the front of the house to encourage proper hygiene. Clients are purchasing less carpeting, and more easily cleanable stainless steel. A demand for brighter walls and minimalist spaces with less clutter prevails.

“Non-porous and anti-microbial surfaces have absolutely risen in prevalence. Any naturally materials like wood and stone require sealants to preserve the surface while allowing increased sanitization,” notes Squires Ferguson.

Other less obvious factors: seaming, button tufted, fluting and ruching in upholstery now may need to be minimized, thus eliminating any recess where particulates could easily become trapped.

Bleach cleanable textiles – long the standard on our healthcare projects – are now being specified throughout office spaces.

Designers are noting a resurgence of traditional forms and colour combinations, classic patterns and textures, as we crave comfort and familiarity in these uncertain times. 

The new home office

Whether you are using a guest bedroom, your dining room table or a corner of your living room, creating a stable at-home work environment is of utmost importance. Privacy screens are helpful to delineate spaces and reduce noise, and designers have seen a big demand for ergonomic chairs and workplace accessories. Investing in a mini desk can be a wise choice as it can be tucked into a small corner. 

“It is great to be able to work from home but I believe it is crucial to have a space designated for it so at the end of the work day, you can “walk away” or “close the door” and enjoy the rest of the day; not be reminded every time you look at your kitchen table all the things that you still need to get done for work,” says  Josée Lalonde of Josée Lalonde Design.

Self-care, holistic health and multi-purpose 

Squires Ferguson recently worked on a project that included a light flooded library with high back acoustic lounge pods and fully upholstered recessed nooks in the walls, power plugs discreetly added in the corner, for an occupant to tuck in and curl up with their laptop. 

“Another new office space for a software company in Langford has requested a reduction in open plan office in exchange for the inclusion of three personal amenity spaces that may be used for on-site chiro, massage, acupuncture, dental cleaning, hair cuts, a laundry facility, even a mani/pedi station.”  

Services like these will entice workers back into the office and give the users the peace of mind that they can access personal care on their own terms. 

Squires Ferguson tells us these are the trends affecting interior designers’ material and fixture selection. “All lighting is dimmable and softer, more organic shapes with translucence and dappled output are taking precedence.  Carpets are more plush underfoot, lushly variegated feature walls like those from Jim Baker at Barker Manufacturing are adding the sensation of movement. With these new levels of client buy-in, we now have the opportunity to craft experiential interiors that have the power to truly benefit the inhabitants, to calm the mind and soothe the spirit.”

At the end of the day, people are resilient, and we are all moving forward and adapting to the changes thrown our way, through our behaviour as well as our home and office spaces. Embracing these challenges and building on one another’s optimism will allow us to confidently navigate a rocky path.