Beyond multispace: the changing working and office environment

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How will office and knowledge work change in the coming years, and what impact will these changes have on the working environment? In the new “Beyond multispace” study from the Office 21® innovation network, Fraunhofer IAO provides forward-thinking perspectives on office environments, based on the altered requirements for office spaces and buildings in the urban context between now and 2030.

Now that pandemic-containment measures are being relaxed, raising the possibility of a full return to the office, this is precisely the time to consider what the working world and the office ecosystem will look like in future: Will we revert to the pre-pandemic world, or should we expect to see shifts? If there are shifts, what will the working and office world of the future look like? Even before the pandemic, that world had already been experiencing a paradigm shift, brought about by the progressive digitalization of our work and lives. The pandemic gave major new impetus to the expansion of working models that are more flexible in terms of timing and location, the spread of agile working and also the altered expectations of employees. Almost every organization has had to grapple with the questions of how future-proof their working and office structures are at present and what adjustments they should make to their office spaces and buildings in response to the huge momentum in this area.

It was in order to answer these questions that researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering IAO, as part of the Office 21® innovation network and working with the partner companies involved, carried out a scenario-based process. Its goal was to think ahead, collaboratively and without preconceptions of the future, about the various influencing factors and how they would play out, and to distil these into a holistic big picture. The study, “Beyond multispace — scenarios of altered requirements in office spaces and buildings in the urban context between now and 2030”, which is now published, contains four scenarios that describe possible developments in the working worlds of the future. The scenarios are intended to indicate various possible developments, providing organizations with practical support for adjusting to them and deriving suitable recommended actions.

Office environments as potential spaces: Thinking ahead about developments from multiple perspectives
The four scenarios developed, “New free world”, “Back from the future”, “New green Europe” and “Individual focus”, lay out different working worlds. The first describes a working world with much greater flexibility, the second a working world that is more cautious about change and more oriented toward the pre-pandemic era, the third is a highly ecologically conscious working world and the fourth is a working world that prioritizes individuality. The study describes the effects of each in various thematic areas and on office spaces and buildings. As an illustration, each scenario concludes with a typical working day, drawn up using personas.

Although each scenario has its own specific characteristics, certain common areas of activity can be identified that are relevant to every organization, such as hybridity, demand for office space, wellbeing, interconnectedness, sustainability and legislation. Which scenario is most suitable for which organization and group of employees depends on a large number of factors, such as the age of the employees, for example. Consequently, the research team assume that none of the individual scenarios will be implemented on a one-to-one basis — on the contrary, several scenarios may be applicable to the same organization. Hybrid versions of the various scenarios are also conceivable. “Our study describes potential spaces for how office environments could be designed in future. However, every organization needs to determine individually which scenario they envisage for themselves and their employees and to implement appropriate strategic measures in order to chart a course towards it,” is the recommendation of Carina Müller, a research associate in the Workspace Innovation team at Fraunhofer IAO and co-author of the study. “We have also identified various levels ranging from the activities of individuals through to the entire organization that will have a crucial impact on the orientation of the future working and office world. This includes the organizational culture, for example, which always needs to be taken into account in the strategy,” adds team colleague and co-author Alina Käfer.

Working and office environments are complex ecosystems
The study demonstrates that the working world of an organization is a complex ecosystem, one in which a large number of different influencing factors interact and need to be planned and implemented as part of a big picture. The future working world will be multi-locational, diverse and experience-oriented, and is shaped by constant change and scene-setting. The continuously evolving requirements for office buildings may indeed present challenges, but they do at the same time offer the opportunity to actively and constructively redefine and redesign the role of office spaces for the future, through the interaction of the economy, public authorities, politics and society.

The following phase of the research will see the Office 21® innovation network continuing to work on the scenarios. The next step is to translate them into specific office concepts and innovative usage models, along with new employee typologies.