The 2021 office

Robert Wilkinson on creating environments that support activity-based working.

The recent office hibernation and directive, for those who could, to work from home led society to reflect that working from anywhere truly means anywhere – from sitting on the lounge to standing at the breakfast bar. 

For better or worse, in lieu of the option of returning to the office, homes have become the epitome of activity-based working – a concept which by definition is a workplace that provides employees with a choice of settings in which they can engage their tasks and colleagues.

Whilst the idea of flexible working spaces and flexible working arrangements has been a trend coveted by many employees for the last decade, COVID19 has forced the hand of many employers, and in essence, eased some of the misgivings they may have had about the productivity which can be achieved in such environments. 

Not so long ago the concept of open offices was all the rage. Cubicles made way for space advocating for flexibility, collaboration and communication.. In time however, the office workforce began to sour on this idea, with the realisation that this meant working styles were ironically pigeon holed – it left employees with limited options as to how they could work. 

Variety is the key and is what drives the choices in the office space. In 2021, employees want to be able to have options

Another concept only a couple of years ago which was foreign to mainstream offices but has since gained popularity is the sit/stand desk. This perhaps began the revolution of the working option. What these two trends identify is that variety is the key and is what drives the choices in the office space.

In 2021, employees want to be able to have options – not only when it comes to how often they will frequent the office, but how they will be able to utilise the space available to them.

Whilst there may be reservations and restrictions as to how workers socialise and physically share their workspace, employees are likely to continue to voice a need for space to sit and collaborate with co-workers and conversely have access to areas which are supportive of solitude; allowing for the opportunity to plug in to the task at hand and work in a quiet space. 

The open office is therefore in need of a makeover to meet this demand. The areas in which we work need to be recalibrated and de-densified. A balance of social and solitude should be put into play, with the third S for Safe being the final piece to what will define our 2021 office setting.

Employees need to continue to be presented with activity-based working environments to support not just productivity, but their wellbeing. The office needs to be about the people, rather than just the work process it is trying to produce and the presence of variety and flexibility in these spaces is what will yield these results.


This being said, technological innovations will continue to lead office design as it gives rise to efficient workplaces. As technology evolves and businesses continue to embrace its offerings thought needs to be given to HOW we collaborate with each other.

Many companies have moved away from the separatist idea of their international offices and employees having very little to do with each other.

Instead, they embrace the association, encouraging intercontinental teamwork. COVID19 has seen a massive rise in our usage of platforms such as Zoom, Skype and Google Hangouts and as we move to virtual communication with our local compatriots as well.

Physical office spaces need most critically to provide space for virtual co-workers to join in efficiently and successfully with screens, audio and a good internet connection. 

Thought must also be given to resources beyond those of a technological nature. Whilst the consensus is that spaces must be adaptable, there is no doubt that without the appropriate tools available productivity may be mitigated. 

For those businesses who are not completely system-centric or paperless, this speaks to materials such as whiteboards, projectors and other equipment which nurtures individual employees’ learning styles, creativity and enhances productive collaboration.

To remain innovative, employers need to actively and safely encourage interaction amongst colleagues, both virtually and face to face. Fundamentally, this in itself means there is the need to advocate for open space, but not necessarily open space offices.

Unlikely to be a trend and more than just our societal desire for options, the progression to flex space is now the key for businesses to support activity-based working as they safely roadmap their return to the office. 


About the author

Robert Wilkinson is CXO of OfficeMaps



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