Photo: James Bombales

When the pandemic took off across Canada in mid-March, office buildings around the country quickly emptied.

In an effort to minimize the spread of COVID-19, millions of employees were asked to trade their cubicles for home offices, or in many cases, a kitchen table or living room couch. According to a Statistics Canada survey, 4.7 million Canadians who don’t usually work from home did so between March 22nd and 28th. Combined with those who usually work from their residence, 6.8 million people, or about four in 10 workers, were at home during the same period.

As a result of the pandemic, some expect the type of space that employees typically work in to change.

“There’s going to be more home working, or working away from the office,” said Sevil Peach, Director of SevilPeach Architecture + Design, in a recent interview with Dezeen. “That could be in a co-working place, for example, for people who cannot work from home because not every home is suitable for working. You may have four children running around and you may not have enough rooms.”

It’s times like these that a dedicated workspace in the home is a tremendous benefit when compared to a hastily cobbled together kitchen table workstation. Given the sudden migration to work from home setups and the possibility that physical office spaces may be downsized as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, demand for home office and co-working space amenities could potentially rise within new residential buildings.

“We do anticipate a larger demand [for these spaces], but the manner in which these spaces are designed, managed and operated will need careful consideration in the post-COVID world,” said Mansoor Kazerouni, Global Director of Buildings at IBI Group. “Technology can play a key role in the management and operation of these spaces so we ensure that it is a safe and healthy environment.”

The inclusion of workspaces in multi-unit residential projects has already become more common in recent years, according to Kazerouni. He explained that IBI Group, an international architectural, engineering and design firm, has a portfolio of in-construction and complete projects which currently incorporate co-working amenity spaces.

Photo: Nastuh Abootalebi / Unsplash

Data from BuzzBuzzHome shows that there are approximately 90 new construction multi-residential listings across North America, which are currently in registration or selling, that tout co-working or personal workspace features. Increased desire for flexible work patterns, along with smaller units that tend to lack a dedicated workspace, Kazerouni said, have been a driving force behind the demand.

Joe Pettipas, Interior Design Director at IBI Group, said that the development of spaces within multi-residential buildings has evolved to adapt to various needs and uses, along with the standard inclusion of drop-in and touch-down areas. Versatile lounge spaces, for instance, that provide an environment for ad hoc working or meetings have been prevalent.

“As units had become smaller and arguably more efficient, the developer sought out areas to support extending the function of the overall building as a part of the living experience,” said Pettipas.

Post-pandemic, office spaces may be altered over new concerns surrounding safe physical distancing. Buildings around the world will have to navigate the shared use of communal spaces among co-workers, from elevators to kitchens, which are fertile ground for viruses that caused the COVID-19 disease to transmit.

“At present, the concern is physical distancing which runs a bit counter to co-working spaces. However, as we adjust to the new norm and become more comfortable being around others, this will likely change,” said Pettipas. “What we are seeing is that our clients are asking us to think creatively within the units; specifically spaces that can support multiple functions.”

Features of a productive work-from-home environment involve a few key elements, such as the ability to physically separate spaces, like with a designated desk area, plus access to daylight, technology and acoustic control, Pettipas explained.

Within new residential units, there are many design possibilities that can be incorporated to make living and working in the same space more comfortable and transitional, such as alcoves and moveable walls or doors that divide areas. Kazerouni said that the Murphy bed may also rise in popularity in units with limited square footage, providing the ability to convert a bedroom into an office for daytime use.

Dens have traditionally been added into the deeper portions of the units IBI Group designs, away from outside windows, Kazerouni said. However, as more individuals work from their residence, this space could be re-jigged.

Photo: Grovemade / Unsplash

“If, going forward, residents do spend greater proportions of time working from home, it may be more desirable to bring those dens closer to the outside windows so they can enjoy more natural light,” he said.

As Canada continues to make progress on stamping out COVID-19 cases, more conversations are being had about what the return to normal will look like. For the physical office, Kazerouni explained that we need to question what the physical space occupied by any organization really represents.

“Is it a space to gather against workstations or in cubicles and stare at your screen all day or is it the physical embodiment and showcase of everything an organization represents both in terms of its product and services and its culture?” he asked.

“The office of the future needs to be a place of social engagement, ideation, inspiration and knowledge exchange. Each organization will have to figure out how that is achieved and that, in turn, will guide the physical structure of the spaces they occupy going forward,” said Kazerouni.

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