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Converge and Disperse: rethinking the future of work

Our global experiment with self-quarantine has opened up new possibilities for workplace design

By Daniel Yudchitz, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP 

sudden migration to a widespread workfromhome model is leading many organizations to re-think their physical space needs. This evolution is directly tied to operational decisions and will be the impetus for the creation of new workplace typologies and configurations based on how we, as a workforce balance our time between home and traditional office environments 

Enter the Converge and Disperse modela new space utilization concept that reimagines the office as a mix of remote and centralized work. Using this model, we can explore how office environments will change and adapt based on who and how many people will be using the space at a given time. 

Evolving the workplace 

Practically overnight, stay-at-home orders have made employees and employers suddenly comfortable with telecommuting. Many employees now prefer it, and building owners are seeing a financial benefit in terms of energy useGoing forward, one could easily imagine a future where commercial office tenants choose to radically reduce their square footage. Some workers will return to the office, some will remain remote while still others return to the office only intermittently.  

As organizations evaluate these options, spaces that can achieve a new level of adaptability will be valued for their utility. Subsequently, high-performance adaptive compact work environments will receive increased emphasis when employees converge upon the office. Spaces with specific and singular uses will give way to a flexible framework designed to accommodate and adapt to a wider range of programs. As meetings increasingly move to virtual environments, the quantity and functions of conference rooms may be challenged, taking on a flexible character and serving many part-time uses.  

As part of this shift come new opportunities for smart technology to allow aspects of the office environment to be constantly tuned to adapt to fluctuations in use and occupancy.  

Elastic amenities 

As the way employees converge and disperse within the office environment changes, there is an opportunity for new models in commercial real estate. The amount of space each tenant “owns” within a floorplate may shift dramatically, with shared or “elastic” amenities becoming an even bigger part of a building’s offering than currently. Technology will be instrumental in coordinating and scheduling use of the spaces at varying times to allow them to be utilized to the fullest effective range.  

Shared spaces used by multiple tenants on each floor could also lead to experimentation in new materials, assemblies, and technologies to enable more flexibility in the name of effective utilization. We will re-evaluate buildings not as something static, but as something dynamic. Opportunities are plentiful for implementing this new tool kit in experientially inspiring ways.  

Operations and energy 

The flip side of this trend will be new opportunities to increase efficiency during times when that workforce must disperse. During downtimes when spaces are not scheduled for use, there is a real possibility of energy savings. Designers will need to rethink mechanical and electrical systems to allow a building to go dormant when not in use. Buildings may be divided into “zones”, allowing air conditioning to be turned on or off as needed, saving on energy and affecting the organization of physical workspace. 

Need to connect  

A final aspect of this model is related to the role architecture plays in meeting the human need for connection.  Although people may spend more of their time working from home, workplace will remain an important point of connection to others and driver of company culture. Workplaces are a physical embodiment of the identity and culture of our organizations and will continue to be important to branding and public perception. For this reason, the Converge and Disperse workplace will need to facilitate connection in a more meaningful way than in the past. 

The commercial workplace isn’t going away. It simply needs to evolve to better suit the needs of companies, building owners and employees. Architecture will play a key role in this, providing opportunities for workforces to converge and disperse at the right times. The outcome will be a better quality of life for workers, improved efficiency for companies and novel development opportunities for building ownersAs we continue to develop these ideas, we will continue to find ways to enhance the experience of tomorrow’s workplace.  

This is the second in a series of design discussions about what comes next for the commercial market. Follow LEO A DALY on social media to join the conversation.  

About the author

Daniel Yudchitz, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP, is senior design architect in LEO A DALY’s Minneapolis studio. Growing up as the son of an architect gave Dan a passion to create and explore the built environment. He focuses on creating strategies for aspirational design expressions to reinforce the client’s mission and enhance building functionality in a sustainable, economical and impactful manner.