Decision time – A major investigation into the future of the workplace starts from Milan

Office nostalgia or office aversion: what will be the prevailing mood after Covid? For millions of employers and employees worldwide decision time is getting closer. In what forms shall we physically go (or not go) back to work?

Amid great uncertainties, all players in office-related businesses better get prepared, just in case everything does not magically go back to “old normal”. First step to do so and anticipate possible changes is researching the market, exploring new demands, brainstorming for new solutions. This is why we decided to start this in-depth market research about the future of workplace organization. The title of the research: NEOffice – New Trends in Office Organization.

With the many open options we face, one thing is for sure: with the global social experiment we endured during the pandemic, we learned that the brick-and-mortar office is nothing irreplaceable. With their now ubiquitous streaming services and cloud computing, the tech giants have disrupted the market of workplace organization.

And recent history tells us that when big digital players enter a market, they move fast and break things. Digital alternatives to brick-and-mortar offices are here to stay and most probably even become ever more efficient and appealing.

General sentiment is divided. Each of us has mixed feelings. Some people would like everything to go back to old normality, ready to punch in their badges. Others dream of a radical deconstruction of the brick-and-mortar office as we know it, embracing a life of digital nomadism.

In between these two extremes, we find a whole range of mixed wishes: office spaces that become more a benefit offered to the employees than an obligation, with a hybrid design borrowing from cafés, hotels, resorts, libraries, campuses, showrooms, ateliers, and even nurseries, spas, cultural venues, and gyms. The aim of our research is to explore these trends. 

We will use a multi-disciplinary approach to find answers to the many crucial questions we face, such as: what new needs will office designers and HR managers have to deal with? How do employees and employers of different industries and different age groups vary in their desires and fears? What changes are HR departments envisioning? What are the common representations of the office in pop cultureand what signs of attitudinal changes can we detect in the media discourse? 

Workation (work+vacation), bleisure (business+leisure): what possible new moods can we design?

To reply to these questions we put together a diverse team of research professionals, using three different methodologies:

  • A survey, with personal interviews to HR managers and questionnaires targeting employees from different industries, exploring their desires and needs about office life reorganization.
  • A quantitative market analysis, looking into the office furniture market, analyzing scenarios and trends, segment by segment (chairs, desks, partitions, lounges, etc), as a proxy to investigate evolutions in office layouts at large.
  • A visual moodboard for trend forecasting, exploring media representations of office-life in pop culture, past and present, detecting the underlying cultural changes that were already at play and providing a snapshot into the foreseeable future.

A final section of the research will wrap up all learnings collected, in a series of conclusions and recommendations, with a contribution by Workitect, a partner consultancy combining the HR and the interior design approach.

Curious to know how the future of work is looking like? Head to Designing new workspaces and ways of working with Luca Brusamolino.

The challenges we are facing are not completely new. With the “electron revolution”, i.e. the arrival of electricity, radio and phones – said the science fiction writer H.G. Wells in the early 20th Century – we would be able to work from wherever we want, no longer needing to crowd into unhealthy cities. Eighty years later, at the dawn of the digital boom of the 1990s, digital guru Nicholas Negroponte was once again imagining a process of relocation of urban functions, in rururban macro regions where people mostly work remotely.

In reality, up to 2020 none of this had really happened, indeed, even large digital corporations had clustered around a few well-defined geographical areas, such as the San Francisco Bay, Bangalore, Berlin, and the Perl River Delta. Now we may be at a breaking point.

NEOffice, a research focused on Milan, one of the world’s design capital where new trends are forged

The powerful digital conglomerates are paving the way, in their own desired direction, announcing their plans of virtual or dispersed offices, appealing to the growing numbers of aspiring digital nomads, the younger generations, the highly skilled.

Digital companies are going to set a very high standard for all organizations, making it more and more difficult for companies in other industries to attract the young talents and the highly skilled workers they need, unless they offer equally appealing new working arrangements.

The research focuses on Milan, one of the world’s design capital where new trends are forged, and a global city “in thumbnail”, with a diverse mix of industries that makes it representative of other global cities worldwide.

No one knows exactly how the situation will evolve. The post-pandemic economy is likely to be a fast moving business environment, where both success and failures will accelerate. If you feel the urge to get ahead of time and anticipate changes not just passively suffer them, you are welcome to keep following our research.

Who is behind the research? The surveys are conducted by Ergo Research, an agency specializing in scenario studies, combining quantitative and qualitative methods. The market analyses are curated by CSIL – Centre for Industrial Studies, independent research company for the global furniture and furnishing sector, providing market intelligence services to an international client base.

NeoGraphy provides the media assessment section of the research, as a consultancy dedicated to place identity design and geo-marketing. BASE Milano contributes to research as a creative hub located in the design district of Tortona, dedicated to fostering innovation in the cultural industries and urban policies.

A question on everyone’s mind raised by Pippa Roberts, co-founder of Jackdaw Studio: What is the office actually for?

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