One Size Doesn’t Fit All: Employees’ Needs Are Changing Work Spaces

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Lois Wellwood, global interiors practice leader of the architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, known as SOM, said that before the pandemic, “the workplace tended to migrate to one-size-fits-all. There is now the opportunity to start thinking about a return to the office that’s authentic to the organization. People are better supported when things are movable and changeable, with more options for places to work throughout the day. In doing so, the workplace becomes more adaptable, elastic and responsive to what individuals and teams are doing.”

For a 95,000-square-foot tech company office in the Grace Building in midtown Manhattan, SOM created what it describes as a “city within a building.” This includes a stairwell that ascends into the office’s atrium and acts as its central nervous system.

A media wall spans all three of the company’s floors and can be used for companywide Zoom sessions and to display other information to employees around the world. The office also contains a combined reception, living room, cafe and pantry at its entrance; work areas are open plan, allowing employees to decide when and how they want to work. There is also a wellness room for employees with newborns, as well as a shower for those who bike or skateboard to work.

SOM’S Central Place project in Sydney, Australia, scheduled to be completed in 2028, will encompass 1,620,000 square feet of office and retail space and create a workplace environment closely tied to nature, with multiple terraces and a facade designed to minimize interior solar heat gain.

For its clients, the firm further recommends what it calls the “anti-anxiety office entry.” This would entail redesigning an office building’s lobby so it contains “breathable and easily navigable spaces [so] we can choreograph the arrival experience to reduce crowding,” according to a document titled “10 Ideas for Post-Pandemic Design.” “Employees and visitors, messengers and deliveries and people arriving by foot or by bike, each will have a clear and dedicated arrival path.” SOM also recommends that this entry contains “more generously planned bicycle facilities,” as well as showers and locker storage.

Similarly, a 13,000-square-foot New York office — currently being designed by Gensler for the Rizzo Group, a building code consulting firm, scheduled to open in February 2022 — will place a major focus on wellness and well-being. Its outdoor space, which has tables and seats for meetings, will be as large as its indoor space, maximizing employees’ access to the elements year-round.

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