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A framework for designing the new workplace

This report looks at the role of workplace design in reviving company productivity as organisations in every sector and at every scale look to develop new strategies to meet the evolving conditions arising from the impact of COVID-19. It takes a ‘deep dive’ into the design factors that will shape the new landscape for work, and at the design processes that will enact change.

This paper examines the relationship between workplace design and productivity, which has a long and rich history, and proposes a new classification framework for designing. Why this focus on design, and why now?

Area has been exploring the parameters of organisational productivity in a series of research reports, in partnership with WORKTECH Academy. We believe there has never been a better time to talk about what and how we design, because it will be vital to company performance in the coming era.

In 2018, as part of our productivity series, we conducted a global survey with 120 organisations around the world which identified four key factors that contributed to company performance: leadership, wellbeing, technology and environment. In 2019, we took the most highly rated factor – leadership – and looked at how design could support different leadership styles. And in 2020, as the global pandemic started to take its toll on mental health, our subject was wellbeing. With the help of experts, we charted how a new peoplecentred agenda was emerging around health and wellness.

In 2021, with a return of the office underway as part of a hybrid future of work, we decided to focus on the design of the work environment itself. There are key reasons for this. We noticed that the global conversation around the post COVID-19 workplace was heavily weighted towards what needed to happen in the areas of technology and management, whereas design was relatively under-represented in the debate.

We observed that in a time of growing uncertainty and complexity around the future role of the office space, clients needed more guidance and clarity around how design decisions could lead to desired organisational outcomes.

People and technology are both essential to the future of work, but so too is place. Design of the environment makes strategy visible. Now more than ever, designers and their clients and collaborators need a shared language and a shared set of vectors on the map. The design framework at the heart of this report is our contribution to the debate. We hope you will join the dialogue.

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