Office Envy: The Future is Flexible

How office design evolves after a year of remote work.

While many office workers have embraced the commute from bedroom to kitchen and the stretchy waistbands of WFH life, it’s collaboration we’re missing. In a “Return to Work” survey conducted by Minneapolis-based architecture and design firm Nelson Worldwide, 54 percent of remote workers said they miss the sense of teamwork, sociability, and collaborative time with coworkers. “The office of the future must foster this need to connect,” says Deanne Erpelding, principal of Nelson’s central region. She believes the blurring of work boundaries during the pandemic will have a lasting effect on the role of the office. “These spaces must be a physical manifestation of a company’s brand, vision, mission, and values—and their new role will skew heavily toward the desire for employees to collaborate.” Here’s a look at some emerging office design trends and adaptations.

person working in a glass walled office
Employee-Controlled Tech
Voice-activated rooms. Automatic doors. Expect technology to be implemented anywhere it might reduce touch. The key, Erpelding says, is putting employees in control by using apps on their personal devices to check in, reserve rooms, and monitor seating areas.
large office space with sliding glass walls
“The future office will be rooted in flexibility,” says Betsy Vohs, founder and CEO of Minneapolis design firm Studio BV. “Walls that can reconfigure, shift, and align to support different uses are key.” The Studio BV-designed Minneapolis office of Parameters, a commercial furniture supplier, features movable glass walls that turn a large common area into a meeting room.
office elevator bank
Branded Space
If the future purpose of the office is more about building brand identity than housing desks, it’s important to be bold. At Vanco’s Bloomington office, Studio BV made sure visitors know where they are as soon as they step off the elevator. Says Vohs, “Spaces should be inspirational and connect to the mission and values of the organization.”
Meeting room with a whiteboard wall
Open Meeting Areas
It’s time to flip the old model of designating open spaces for informal gatherings and holding meetings behind closed doors, Vohs says. She points to the collaboration spaces at Flagstone Foods’ new Minneapolis office designed by Studio BV. “The office of the future will be centered on space to innovate, mentor, and generate ideas.” Whiteboard walls inspire group brainstorms without adding clutter.
meditation room
A Sense of Well-Being
Seventy-eight percent of office workers say a supportive culture for remote working is important to them. Erpelding of Nelson Worldwide says businesses should keep that in mind when designing spaces where employees feel “safe, productive, and supported.” Examples include meditation rooms, outdoor seating, and adding plants and calming elements in common areas.
cafeteria with lots of plants
An inviting cafeteria creates another gathering spot for collaboration.

Photos: by Corey Gaffer Photography c/o Studio BV (multipurpose, open meeting areas, branded space), Mike Ross c/o Nerdery (warm woods), c/o Nelson Worldwide (a sense of well-being, employee-controlled Tech)

“Wood is making a comeback,” says Kar-Keat Chong of Studio KKChong, who designed Nerdery’s new Edina office. “Everything had gotten so synthetic and composite.” The dividers create separate spaces without sacrificing the open feel.

Related Stories