5 ways to help make your office fit for the future

From hybrid work to the rise of sustainable business practices, there are many global trends that are reshaping how we work. So what does that mean for the future of the office, and how can companies ensure their physical spaces remain fit for purpose, accommodate changing workforces and allow their business to thrive in the coming decades? We spoke to two workplace design experts to find out.

Work has never been static.

But even with the proliferation of working from home during the pandemic, physical offices – with their ability to attract staff and appeal to clients – have held strong. “There will always be places where people congregate to exchange ideas,” says Lucy Sutton, an Associate Director at architecture, interior design and urban design firm Bates Smart. 

That’s why it’s vital that business leaders look at their physical spaces with a future-focused lens. “Workplaces, like the world around them, need to evolve,” says Sasha Titchkosky, co-Founder of Furniture brand Koskela. But how can business leaders keep up with the pace of change while keeping costs and environmental impacts to a minimum?

As experts on workplace design, Lucy and Sasha gave us their thoughts on what businesses should focus on when fitting out offices for the future. 

Focus on flexibility

“There’s a level of uncertainty around the future of workplaces, which ties into the need for adaptability,” Lucy says. “We look at products and consider how they can support change over the lifespan of a workplace and workforce, including scaling up and down.” 

The key to flexibility is to not build yourself into a corner. Instead of constructing traditional meeting rooms, personal offices and breakout spaces, companies can instead use innovative furniture solutions to keep office floor plans fluid. “We're definitely seeing a shift towards adaptable furniture over fixed built elements,” Lucy says. “Meeting rooms are even becoming furniture, with demountable modular pod systems that perform like a traditional meeting room, but can be easily installed, taken down and moved when needed.”

Sasha says there is an increased interest in suites of furniture that work together and can be reconfigured to suit different purposes and working modes, like modular pieces or products that can be changed with different accessories. “Furniture module kits that can grow or reduce in size offer plenty of flexibility for workplaces,” says Sasha. For example, flexible booths may use a panel-based system that can be extended to allow for larger group collaborations, or reduced to allow for smaller work stations.

Employees also benefit from this added flexibility. “It’s quite valuable for a worker to have autonomy and a sense of ownership over their workspace,” Lucy says. “With flexible furniture, they can customise a space to suit their needs.”

It’s quite valuable for a worker to have autonomy and a sense of ownership over their workspace.... With flexible furniture, they can customise a space to suit their needs - Lucy Sutton, Associate Director Bates Smart

Think sustainably

Our world is facing an urgent resources crisis, with our current consumption demands exceeding the capacity of what nature can provide. “Workspaces need to be designed with a minimised environmental impact in mind from the outset,” says Sasha. “Namely low emissions and a commitment to circularity – the principle of repairing, refurbishing and reusing what we already have to minimise resource waste.”

Lucy says that fit-outs make up less than 10% of a building’s initial overall carbon footprint. Despite this, they have the ability to surpass the entire building’s carbon output throughout its lifespan if they’re constantly being replaced. “While the impact of fit-outs may seem small, over time it can increase because of the accumulative effect of change,” Lucy says.

Thankfully, the shift to sustainability doesn’t require you to move into a new 7-star energy rated building. In fact, it’s often more sustainable to stay put and work within your existing footprint, especially since, according to a report from our recent collaborators JLL, 80% of office buildings that exist today will still be in-use in 2050. Much like circularity itself, it’s about making use of what we’ve already got. “We work with a lot of companies who are looking to refit and adapt their existing offices to suit the changing needs of their workforce,” Sasha says.

The shift to hybrid work has had a huge impact on how people interact when they’re in the office - Sasha Titchkosky, Koskela Co-founder

Enable hybrid working models

Hybrid work is here to stay, with 74% of Australians favouring a mix of remote and in-person work. So what does this mean for the fit-out of your office?

“The shift to hybrid work has had a huge impact on how people interact when they’re in the office,” Sasha says. “Technology has helped break down barriers of distance, but online meetings have brought about their own set of challenges.”

“There are issues now with people holding online meetings at their desks and disturbing the people around them,” Lucy agrees. “There’s a need for a higher ratio of small, private spaces, so that people aren't disturbing each other in the open plan areas.” 

Future-focused furniture solutions can help to accommodate the changes brought on by hybrid work. “From private office booths and workpods that reduce sound transmission to office divider screens that designate effective partition areas, there are plenty of ways furniture can help enable a more harmonious workspace for employees,” Sasha says.

In terms of what we’ll see in the future, Lucy predicts “a greater migration to the ‘third space’ concept of satellite offices in a wider variety of locations, to suit people's lifestyle needs around where they live.” She also predicts a move towards office furniture that feels more residential and intimate, as hybrid work continues to blur the lines between home and the office. “It will become what people expect in terms of comfort, aesthetic and approachability for the future workplace,” she says. 

Don’t compromise on quality

With longevity and repairability in mind, investing in quality products early on in the fit-out process can save money in the long run. “While we’re always balancing our clients’ budget constraints, we do strongly advocate for higher quality, more durable, locally made products,” says Lucy. “These have a longer lifespan and will ultimately cost our clients less.”

Longevity ultimately comes down to the product design and service models of the provider. “At Koskela, we’ve always rejected trends when it comes to design and prefer to create timeless, classic and comfortable pieces that are easy to repair and refresh,” says Sasha.

How Koskela can help future fit your office

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to ensuring your office is fit for its future purposes. That’s where Koskela comes in. We provide in-depth space planning consultations and custom-built solutions based on the individual needs of your business. “We’re one of the only office furniture designers that uses 3D render tools to offer you a look at your future workspace,” Sasha says. “For larger scale projects, we’ll happily partner with architects and designers; but for smaller businesses, we can work with you directly.”

As the first Australian furniture company to receive B Corp accreditation, all of our locally made, sustainable and stylish office furniture is designed and produced with circularity front of mind. That ranges from our removable sofa covers, to our replaceable components, our Repair & Renew program and our standard seven-year warranty. As leaders in sustainability, we’re well-placed to help businesses of all sectors and sizes to reach their ESG goals. 

“Generally speaking, the furniture industry is based on making an income through selling new” Lucy says. “We need to move away from that. That is where Koskela stands out, because they are uniquely positioned to address the challenge that a lot of businesses have, which is shifting their entire model to the circular economy approach.”