One such change is bound to occur with the office furniture industry. This market is poised to see both short and long-term changes, primarily with the shift towards more work-from-home options, increased flexibility and collaborations, as well as floor-space changes. These themes will strongly influence furniture manufacturers as they develop next-generation furniture for the Post-COVID era.
Themes that will drive the office furniture industry post-COVID
The COVID era will not persist forever, but it will certainly have an influence on markets and behaviors for years to come.
Theme #1: Flexible Open Collaboration Spaces Are a Must Have
As people have increasingly found ways to collaborate in the virtual environment, it will be important to support collaborative opportunities when returning to the workplace. An emphasis on open collaboration is an important trend that will likely prevail, with collaborative spaces becoming more necessary and a driver for meaningful connections. Adapting to have more open meeting spaces, better acoustics and technology to streamline connections with coworkers will become the new norm. Furthermore, adapting furniture to be flexible, adaptable and movable within spaces to accommodate different group sizes encourages that collaboration. Furniture manufacturers need to consider allowing for a variety of seating arrangements and working options, using materials that are lightweight and reconfigurable, and change the shapes, heights and sizes of furniture to adapt to social distancing requirements as needed.
Theme #2: Traditional Workstation Just Might Be Dead
This adaptability to changing needs also highlights the need to eliminate the workstation model. Static workstations with limited separation, privacy and flexibility have been found to not be very adaptable with the push towards lower density workspaces. These models are tied to the past with their high panels and larger workstations, but with a lack of versatility that will be needed in the Post-COVID era. Workers today have a preference for office furniture that is multi-purpose, can adapt to meet a number of different work styles and has better longevity. Varying both surface and seating heights can facilitate social distancing with the right office equipment, and still maintain its functionality. Integrating technology and power into workstations so they can be mobile and increase distancing as necessary is also important, as research shows that spaces are going to need to change and the furniture in these spaces needs to adapt as well.
Theme #3: Floor Plans Are Becoming More Creative
As these spaces adapt, a few changes will be with floor plans. As the need to reduce foot traffic and personnel in the same space increases, different designs such as the honeycomb, the pinwheel or 90- and 120-degree workstations will become more prevalent while preserving square footage. Linear lines and aisles promote clusters of personnel and workstations, and will not be the preferred option going forward. Another option that may become prevalent is neighborhood-based planning design, where there are specific communal spaces just for one team—and that team works in the same vicinity so as to reduce the number of different people in a given space. There may also be changes to whether workers have dedicated spaces or share desk spaces as the mix of in-person and work-from-home continues.
Theme #4: Working From Home is Here to Stay
Working-from-home is a trend that has been accelerated with COVID, and is expected to endure. Currently about three-quarters of respondents from a survey by CBRE, indicate that at least some portion of their workforce should be allowed to work from home, and over half indicating that at least part-time work-from-home should be allowed. If these trends prevail, furniture manufacturers will need to adapt to meeting the needs of workers at home such as flexibility, speed of delivery simplicity and a scale more appropriate for the home environment. Some components may be similar to the commercial market, but time will tell whether manufacturers can adapt their products to meet both needs.
In the end, flexibility and longevity will be key to adapt office furniture to meet the needs of the commercial and work-from-home market. Increasing collaborations, and developing furniture that can be delivered quickly to the consumer, and with light-weight material in order to support frequent reconfigurations will be important. Furthermore, just because there are more people working-from-home currently, does not mean the office environment is dead. The office environment will continue to adapt and likely have lower density, with variable schedules and personnel—but will still require next-generation office furniture.