For office, read connection


Willis Tower Courtesy of EQ Office

While flexibility and choice will shape the design of workspaces in the future, Todd Heiser of Gensler assures us that the crucial factor will be their ability to create human connections and foster inclusion and wellbeing.

Covid-19: can one single factor – albeit as extraordinary and all-consuming  as an unexpected pandemic – really be the sole reason for the swift change of tack on current thinking around workspaces? Clearly not. The situation is actually a good deal more complex: globalisation, accelerating technological development and climate change are the co-drivers of this revolutionary approach to a space that really has become the starting point for a broader design rethink. We now urgently need to reconsider places that will connect, protect and bolster resources, spaces that foster social, physical and emotional wellbeing.

Todd Heiser, Managing Director of Gensler’s Chicago office, reminded us that the pandemic brought the importance of interaction into sharp relief, along with health, a factor that has already been widely debated in light of the environmental changes we are experiencing. Gensler puts man as a social being, tout court, at the heart of its thinking, which has fuelled the belief that designing a workplace that will motivate people to leave their homes calls for a holistic approach centred on a desire to be with others.

I would like to start our talk, asking what are the elements that, in the future, will create the kind of workplace people will be drawn to.

Flexibility and choice are the future. People want a workplace that provides them with a platform to thrive. Someone’s place of work must support their physical, mental, and emotional well-being, while also placing connectivity and equity at the forefront.

In addition, the workplace, more than ever before, must be worth the commute. We know from our research that public transit and commute times continue to be a hurdle in people returning to a physical workplace. However, over the last year, leaders learned to manage for outcomes, rather than activity. There used to be an idea that managers needed to see workers working to feel productivity. The pandemic has opened people up to be more resilient, authentic, and connected at work – driving a stronger sense of purpose and a deeper consideration of the “whole worker”.

This is the future we’ve all wanted for our workplaces, the trends that were in place pre-pandemic. They’ve been amplified and accelerated through the forced work-from-home experiment, and we have an opportunity as workplace designers to find that silver lining and create spaces that meaningfully support positive cultural change.

So, are the businesses thinking about blending residential units with office real estate in a post-pandemic era? Which would be the pros and the cons?

Mixed use is absolutely the way forward for many building types. When we think about the future of our cities, we’re thinking about well-rounded 20-minute neighborhoods that offer the ability to live, work, and play all within walking distance.

Blending residential and office is one way to achieve the goal of creating vibrant, resilient, equitable urban cores with a sense of vitality from day-to-night – instead of the model where we see the central business district clearing out at the end of the workday.

The positives absolutely outweigh any negatives but change at this scale does not come without great effort and thought. One of the myriad considerations building owners would need to keep in mind, for example: A family on the way home from the grocery store are entering the building at the same time an out-of-town client of a corporate law firm is arriving – how does design address their specific needs and expectations? Do they have the same entrance? What are their unique experiences?

If we can carefully consider multiple journeys and expectations, we can design solutions to ensure a positive, connected experience for a variety of users and amenities.

Work from home experiences differ across generations?

Gensler has been researching workplace since 2005. This past year, we conducted multiple workplace surveys in various geographies and points in time – gathering insights from workers across industries, locations, and generations to explore a shift in expectations.

We analyzed the data to understand how the experience of working from home is affecting workers of different types—and found some interesting data points about generational differences.

Broadly, younger respondents are feeling less productive and less satisfied working from home. They are less likely to feel they’ve accomplished the work they need to do at the end of a typical day, and overall feel like they’re getting less work done while at home.

Younger workers are also less aware of how their work connects to a larger organizational mission and are more likely to feel stressed while working from home.

We now know, for many young professionals, unplanned interactions with leadership are the networking and mentorship touchpoints they need to move forward in their careers, and that has been sorely lacking as we work from home.


Gensler London Gareth Gardner


Huya Headquarters Matthew Stephenson


Hyundai Capital UK Nacasa&Partners


Knoll Chicago Eric Laignel

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Do you think that the workplace of the future will be shaped primarily by technological change or by changes in people’s thinking and attitudes?

The human experience is at the core of the reinvention of work – our preferences and behaviors come first, and the technology to support them follows.

We’ve been more reliant on tech than ever before as we logged on to virtual meetings, participated in online speaking events, and worked collaboratively with virtual tools and real-time chat functionalities. In this short period of time, we saw features across platforms added, discarded, and changed to fit how workers actually behaved in their day-to-day.

Technology that transcends demographics is next. There remains a disconnect between equity and technology, but we’re starting to see the beginnings of progress. Our technology needs to rise to meet us and address issues including equitable internet access and closing generational knowledge gaps, for example. We can only inclusively shape technology with our behaviors and preferences if we all have the access and ability to use the tools.

5. COVID-19 has widespread impacts on the world at large, but also on how businesses operate in an office environment. How has it impacted your operations and how has your company responded?

As a global firm, we had insights directly from our offices in China from the very beginning. Our leaders across the globe came together to transition thousands of team members to working from home in very short order.

The technology and virtual collaboration tools we had in place allowed us to maintain team connectivity, business continuity, and our creative culture throughout the pandemic. Together, we have deepened our adoption of technology and processes that allow our teams to work best, and are taking those tools and insights with us into the new era of hybrid work.


The Howard Hughes Company Halkin Mason


The Old Chicago Post Office Eric Laignel


The Old Chicago Post Office Tom-Rossiter


Zendesk Jason O'Rear

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21 September 2021