The below excerpt is from Industrious’ latest guide: 4 Visions of the Future of the Workplace.

Like most one-size-fits-all solutions, the open office does a lot of things.

It just doesn’t do many of them well.

Turn your mind back to 2019 and remember the last time you were in an open office. You could do focus work — if you had a pair of noise-cancelling headphones. You could collaborate — at least, in theory. A 2018 study published by the Royal Society in the U.K. found that rather than promote collaboration, open offices discouraged it. Employees spent 73% less time interacting face-to-face, while email and messaging use increased by 67%.

Yet despite their unpopularity pre-pandemic, open offices persisted. But today, everything has changed.

In 2019, the assumption for most white collar workers was that you’re in the office eight hours a day, Monday through Friday. That assumption has been flipped on its head by a year of predominantly remote work. Now, you don’t ask your supervisor if you can work from home one day; she asks if you can head into the office.

This sea change is being facilitated by a shift in decision-making power. While pre-pandemic, where you worked was decided at the very top, post-pandemic employees and individual team managers have much more say because employees have shown that they can work remotely. What’s more, many would like to continue working remotely at least some of the time, and employers are listening. In CBRE’s 2020 “Workforce Sentiment Survey,” 66% of employees reported wanting to split their week between home and the office while 91% of managers preferred or were fine with embracing a hybrid model.

56% of hiring managers say that the shift to remote work went better than expected
62% say their workforce will be more remote going forward
Source: Ozimek, Adam. (2020) “The Future of Remote Work.” Upwork

The Rise of the Dynamic Office

While at first, fully-vaccinated white collar workers may come to the office to enjoy being around other people, as the novelty wears off, the office will need to offer employees something they can’t get from their homes or local coffee shops.

At the same time, the pressure is still on the office to perform a variety of functions. Collaboration is the most obvious reason to come into the workplace, but you’ll also see employees with families or roommates who need a place to focus away from the distractions at home. Meanwhile, younger employees may want to come into the office for the mentorship and professional development opportunities that arise from sharing a space. And as the open office has proven, meeting these demands well will require more intentional spaces. Mediocrity is not an option; if employees don’t like being in the office, they’ll just stay home.

Adding further complexity, you have the simple fact that employers don’t know how many of their employees will be coming in on any given day — which makes space calculations increasingly difficult.

The answer? A dynamic office with the specificity and the multifunctionality of a Swiss Army Knife.

As occupancy rates rise over the summer and fall, more pressure will be placed on the office to accommodate in-person meetings for the whole team, since these are exactly the kind of experiences colleagues have missed out on over the past year. You can easily imagine a need for large conference rooms, lounges, and even auditoriums as companies gather in-person for the first time since early 2020.

But as we move into 2022 and people find a new hybrid rhythm, mixed presence meetings — in which some coworkers attend in-person and others remotely — will become increasingly common. These will require more and smaller meeting rooms with A/V equipment. Informal collaborative and social spaces which foster creative thinking and team bonding will also become increasingly critical as people become more comfortable sharing spaces. At the same time, having more and more differentiated collaborative spaces will reduce the pressure on open-plan desk areas to do double duty, making it easier for employees to do heads-down work between meetings. Focus rooms and phone booths may also face more demand from employees who come in specifically to concentrate.

Flash-forward further. Teams have settled into a hybrid routine … and then the company grows. Work from anywhere means that employers will have to continually reassess their workplace needs. If the talent an employer wants isn’t in its HQ city, it may decide to open a remote office. Or maybe the sales team is starting to expand — and as a result, an employer needs more soundproof, A/V-equipped spaces for individuals making video calls. All of these conditions require nimble yet intentional solutions, from the technology that’s embedded in a space to the furniture that fills it.