How we design for the future of work

A year working remotely has enabled our design team to reevaluate the things that make a TOG work space unique, says senior interior designer, Claire McPoland

I’ve been working from my flat, which I share with one other person. It’s a comfortable place to work, with lots of natural light and a small balcony. But the new norm of daily conference calls means that an open plan living space presents challenges – and often requires one of us to work from a bedroom.

Working from home makes you realise the value of different spaces for different tasks. The nature of our work as a design team at TOG is highly collaborative, so where possible we’ve been trying to work from our studio at Henry Wood House, a few days a week. When we’re there, we’re able to work creatively as a team either in the main studio or a meeting room, with the choice of changing to quieter work zones as needed – and that’s the magic of the office. When you just have one environment, it can hinder productivity because you don’t get the time to reset that moving between different spaces can provide.

Everyone’s work preferences are individual and often depend on the task at hand. In an office environment, you can move around and seek out areas to catch up with a colleague or alternatively, focus and concentrate. Over the last year, we’ve been doing a lot of industry research and speaking to clients. What comes through, right across all businesses, is that people have missed all the elements that make up a work space aside from a desk and a chair. And as clients are thinking about returning to work, they’re realising rows of fixed desks may no longer reflect their needs.

 

As a team we’ve been developing a ‘menu’ of alternate work settings for clients that offer other ways to reimagine the office. Where people want to foster the social element and reconnect with colleagues, they could create soft seating zones or replace banks of desks with project team tables. There’s a much greater need for people to have personal storage as ‘clean desk policy’ increases in popularity so room divides with integrated lockers can be introduced to zone areas too. High-level storage is also an opportunity to dress the space with planting: accents of green can really imbue a sense of calm into an office environment.

At Douglas House in Fitzrovia, we’ve just opened the ‘oxygen room’: a beautiful space high up in the building with great views that’s filled with natural light and plants. It’s a very different environment in which to regather your thoughts. The meditation suite at United House in Notting Hill, with its immersive art installation, offers another chance to escape and reset. 

Natural light is proven to increase our productivity. The majority of our buildings have balconies or terraces and some also have outdoor meeting spaces. The journey of moving from one place to another gives you time to refocus and is a design consideration in all of our buildings. Our cafés are great for one kind of conversation, our libraries for another. Now we’re taking that ecosystem and creating a smaller version within client offices that are tailored to their business.

Typically, you want to position workstations along the window line, so you’re giving people in a fixed position the best access to natural light and views. Collaborative space adjacent to the arrival point into the office can also be advantageous. We think about how people move through the space and consider how to zone the environment to suit – planning collaborative settings near to naturally noisier areas and creating focus booths in far corners of the space. Acoustics are a huge factor for us. Obviously there are options to build meeting rooms and phone booths, but we’re looking at other solutions too; like introducing drapes to create softer partitions while providing a level of acoustic and visual privacy.

There’s a different design language to all TOG’s work spaces, dictated by the fabric of each building itself. Our newest space, Liberty House – next to the department store, Liberty London – is playful in the way we’ve introduced colour: we’ve used a coral shade that is instantly uplifting. United House has a different look and feel and is much more focused on tactility: with wood finishes and hanging textiles forming the basis of the palette. There’s a consistency that runs through our work spaces and encourages you to explore. Not everything’s immediately apparent when you enter. You can find unique places in every work space to suit the way you want to work.

The pandemic has placed workplace design trends under the spotlight. It’s going to be really interesting to see which trends accelerate, which change and which disappear. People might assume they want to use a space one way, but the reality might be different. We’ll work with clients to support them through that journey, because we appreciate the individual needs of each and every business. We can’t wait to welcome members back into our spaces, and to be able to enjoy everything that comes with a TOG building again.

Claire McPoland is TOG’s senior interior designer