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The New Role of The Office And How It Looks Like Amid Covid-19

Updated: Apr 28


The office is a place where staff can periodically check in to connect to colleagues and to the company brand

Project: Confidential Client (Singapore Project)

Photo courtesy of Onestop Creative Associates (OSCA)


There were several predictions on how the office will look amid COVID 19, from having large desks and wider corridors, to a totally contactless office with employees coming to work in full Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). I don't see any of these; not from the clients we are working with now. But one prediction proved correct and definitely affected the size of the office: the adoption of the work-from-home strategy. While some businesses still benefit from a physical workplace and a collaborative environment (e.g: creative companies that provide tangible services like ours), many organizations have already adjusted to working from home (for an indefinite period). With the pandemic still lingering and rent remaining as one major expense, the big office is the first to go.


Working from home however may not be a permanent solution. My experience shows that a large percentage of employees still want to return to the office. There's a limit to the number of virtual meetings we can do in a day; as these online meetings add to the strain of working too long in front of a computer. Working in isolation for a prolonged period can also have negative effects on emotional health. The fact that our cities have clearly defined spaces for work and recreation should convince you to separate the physical office from your home.


This now gives us the responsibility to make the office more relevant and give it a new role. For new installations, the office serves as a "brand centre" that highlights a company's commitment to doing business in a particular country. For many others, the office functions as a "culture hub" where employees can regularly "check-in" to do a special task, to connect and to belong to a larger community. A culture is defined as a set of values, beliefs and behaviours, experiences and processes developed and shared by a group of people who stayed together through good and bad for a long period of time; something that is strengthened, passed on and felt only within various physical work, social, and recreational settings. These are intangible concepts that we cannot transfer through virtual engagements.


The next office is the new “Brand Centre” that establishes a company’s presence in a certain region.

Project: Confidential Malaysia Office Proposal

Design Image courtesy of Onestop Creative Associate (OSCA)



The collaborative environment however contradicts social distancing. In the process of working with potential clients to reconcile these two concepts, I developed the idea of "adaptability". This simply means allowing the client to keep an office with a manageable size, future-proof or pandemic-proof it and give the client more room for expansion when business goes back to "normal". Some of the workplace strategies we applied to create the "adaptable" office are not new to us; but these practical concepts found their way into the design process once again and seems more relevant than ever. Below are those concepts which define the features of the new office.


  • Activity-Based Work (ABW) Spaces

  • Hot desking & Flexible Desk Systems

  • Designing for Wellness

  • Future-proofing and Space Optimization


Activity-Based Work (ABW) Spaces

With our homes now a viable workplace option, the new office must have accommodations that our homes cannot provide. Due to their variety, ABW furnishings can rejuvenate an existing space, create a more interesting and energetic office landscape, and give us new reasons to check in to the office. ABW spaces can be provided as extra pockets of space that can divide the office floor into zones for safe-distancing purposes. Accommodation types can be anything like large picnic tables, phone booths, focus pods, stand-up discussion areas and flexible meeting rooms.


ABW spaces are interesting features that energize and highlight pockets of spaces in the office.

Project: Confidential Singapore Office Proposal

Design Images courtesy of Onestop Creative Associate (OSCA)


ABW spaces divide the office floor into zones and serves as safe-distancing measures

Project: Confidential Singapore Office Proposal

Design Images courtesy of OneStop Creative Associates (OSCA)



Hot desking & Flexible Desk Systems

Hot desking (or unassigned seating) means a clean desk policy, which is helpful in reducing the amount of items on the table coming into contact with pathogens. With space a major cost concern, hot desks can be advantageous as they can be smaller. A 1.20 meter-long desk is enough to accommodate a laptop or even a desktop computer. Storage cabinets are not needed as the staff will have their own lockers. A twist on hot-desking is the flexible desk system. This simple system allows users to adjust the spacing between staff; and therefore the density of a cluster. In pandemic times, this helps avoid putting an unsightly red "X" mark on desks that must not be used.


Flexible desk systems help adjust density when needed; either to address a pandemic or to increase headcount.

Project: Confidential Singapore Office Proposal

Design Images courtesy of OneStop Creative Associates (OSCA)



Designing for Wellness

Wellness will be a part of office design from here onwards. Designing for wellness includes the following:

  • Access to Natural Light: to enhance and to maximize the “open” feeling of a reduced office space

  • Zoning and Clustering: helps to control number of people in different zones and to address safe-distancing concerns during a pandemic

  • Biophilic Designs: manifestations of nature or outdoor elements that sooths and provide moments of rest or relaxation

  • Mobility and Movement: Centralizing shared spaces (meeting rooms, automation areas, kitchens, etc.) to encourage walking and movement.

  • Improved Indoor Air Quality (IAQ): It might take a while for buildings to modify existing systems to improve air quality. A feasible interim solution is to provide fixtures that combine lighting and a built-in UV air purifier.


Indoor plants provide manifestations of nature. Suspended fixtures above desks combine light and a built-in UV air purifier

Project: Confidential Singapore Office Proposal

Design Images courtesy of Onestop Creative Associate (OSCA)


Future-Proofing and Space Optimization

Future-proofing the office means that there should be enough space in the office to allow for an increase in headcount. The same extra pockets of space (ABW spaces) provided earlier for safe distancing can be used to accommodate this additional headcount, and must be flexible enough to allow for conversion of these spaces to regular workstations.


The same ABW spaces provided earlier can be converted to regular hot desks if needed to provide more headcount

Project: Confidential Singapore Office Proposal

Design Images courtesy of Onestop Creative Associate (OSCA)




Written by: Roger G. Arcangel

Published by: Emily Chia

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