The Reimagined Workplace: 2021 and Beyond

I frequently talk about how companies can and should leverage the built environment to impact their overall success. Workspace affects culture and engagement, employee health, wellbeing, and an organization’s innovative nature. At no time has this discussion been of greater importance than it is right now. Until now, the term ‘Workplace of the Future’ has possessed an aura of unattainability. An almost ethereal idea of what could be. The past year has taught us an overwhelming amount of things, but one thing that sticks out. That Workplace of the future? It’s critical now.

The landscape of the office and the definition of the Workplace has changed forever. Guess what? That’s a good thing! The old model has been slowly dying, and the need for innovation great. If you are a leader and your company fails to adapt to new working ways, your business will struggle.

Nothing I’m writing here is a brand new idea. Over the past few years, many of these concepts have been gaining popularity. As in many instances, with popularity comes pushback. Some leaders detest change and swear whatever the idea; it just won’t work for their company. It turns out, a global pandemic punches holes in old excuses and accelerates innovation and adaptation. Below are the conversations I predict will become crucial to organizational growth over 2021.

The built environment as a framework for wellbeing

We’ve not seen a more significant health emergency in our lifetime. The COVID-19 pandemic is causing a dramatic physical health crisis; it continues to push the boundaries and the resilience of our mental health.

Before the spring lockdowns, people spent 90% of their time indoors. Ninety percent! That pre-pandemic number is crazy enough, and unfortunately, it’s not difficult to believe that many are now spending closer to 100% of their time indoors.

With much of our lives spent in buildings, businesses, and our own homes, it’s no surprise that these spaces play a significant role in our overall health and wellness. Things such as indoor air quality, building design, the temperature of the area, light levels, and even the type of food served on-premises impact a wide range of physical and mental factors.

2021 is the year more businesses accept their role and responsibility for employee wellbeing. I foresee massive growth in organizations implementing programs like WELL Building Standard, Fitwel, and Living Building Challenge. Metric and performance-based, each of these programs focus on areas of the built environment that impact health and wellness, productivity, and overall wellbeing.

Are you wondering if your company could improve in some areas? Click here to access this quick diagnostic tool.

At the very least, I challenge you to learn more about these certification programs and how they can benefit your organization. Even if it’s not currently feasible to obtain official certification, there are practical and easily actionable standards that will positively impact occupants when implemented.

Empowerment Through Flexibility

In March of 2020, the entire world jumped into a forced mass social experiment. Seemingly overnight, coronavirus reduced our human connection to a digital existence. Business leaders who were firmly rooted in the belief that remote working was not feasible for their company were quickly proven wrong. The proverbial work from home genie is out of the bottle, and it’s not going back in.

While remote work is undoubtedly here to stay, the physical office is not going away. We are social creatures, and there will always be a need for human connection. The physical office’s form and function will evolve to complement and support flexibility in many ways.


According to a 2020 Gensler Work From Home study, research showed that just 12% of people desire the ability to work from home post-pandemic. Instead, their most recent survey shows employees prefer a hybrid plan such as the 3-2-2 model, which offers three days in the office, two days of remote work, and two days off. By rotating staff using this model, you’re creating a positive environment in a few ways.

First and foremost, it’s a simple way to bring your people back to the office safely. 3-2-2 offers an easier way to maintain social distancing standards without having to make a single change to your current office environment. Second, the plan’s long-term flexibility offers a healthier work-life balance, which is proven to lessen stress and improve mental health, increase productivity and job satisfaction.

Free Address

Free Address is a concept that allows employees to choose their work environment within the office, depending on what type of work they need to complete at any given moment. Factors that may influence their decisions include the type of work they need to perform, their physical comfort within the space, and their current mood. By offering different work zones, different thermal and light ranges, and various furniture tools such as sit-to-stand options, you set the stage for high performance and high productivity.

When To Work

We’ve all been on a video call where kids, spouses, roommates, and pets have made their workplace debut. With everything that is going on, most people are inevitably juggling personal and professional lives more than ever before! By offering flexibility in when work needs to happen, you’re empowering your people to take control of all aspects of their lives and create a customized workday that allows them to perform at their best.

The only caution is to set limits on late-night work. You don’t want to create potential sleep issues for your team! By putting an organizational cap at midnight, you’re still putting that employee’s health and wellness at the forefront.

Inclusive Design

People crave a human connection, which is why the physical space will never go away! The beauty of humankind is all the things that make us different, so when reimagining the workspace, it’s important to incorporate elements to support a diverse and inclusive workforce.

Work Zones are fantastic because they encourage diverse work styles and support people of all abilities, and they build a culture of empowerment by promoting the Free Address concept above.

Let’s focus on a few essential work zones.

A Focus Zone with increased acoustical support or sound masking to control noise is imperative for employees who need a space for “heads-down” work.

A Restoration Zone will benefit employees by giving them a place to enjoy natural elements, meditate, and better manage stressors in the day.

Free Flow Zone allows for collaboration and impromptu brainstorming.

Another excellent alternative for companies that want to incorporate adjustable height features but don’t have a budget to fit out all their desks is to create a Movement Zone that contains flexible furniture.

By offering different zones for different work types, you’re allowing your people to take what they need to balance themselves and produce outstanding results.

While I have come to despise the term “new normal,” I think a new normal of the reimagined Workplace is brimming with positivity. Companies that adopt these practices will create an environment where their people and the organization will truly thrive.

Stay tuned as I take a deeper dive into these topics and more in our Reimagined Workplace series.

About the Author:
Courtnay Bradley is the Founder and Chief Purpose Officer at Trilogie, host of The Up/Down Podcast and Hub Leader of the Workplace Evolutionaries – Kansas City Hub. Her passion for people fuels her obsession with helping companies design and furnish work environments that truly inspire and engage employees. In 2009 she started Trilogie with the sole purpose of creating kick-ass workspaces that help organizations thrive.

Photo credit: OFS