24 May 2021

The fast-track evolution of office design

Grant Dean has been with TSK for nearly six years and has over 20 years’ experience designing offices for global brands, including Pepsi, MoneySuperMarket and Access Group.

Over the years, there’s been a huge shift in office design. The pandemic has certainly played its part in this - but has it fundamentally changed our perception or just accelerated a new standard of design?

Here, Grant reflects on how design has evolved over the years, and more importantly, where it’s heading.

It’s about creating experiences

Businesses used to think about office design as a number-crunching exercise. The primary concern was occupancy – “how many desks can we fit in the space?”. We didn’t acknowledge employee experience, and an open-plan office design was seen as noisy, expensive and lacking in privacy.

Now, we’re collectively much more knowledgeable and aware of how important health and wellbeing in the workplace is. Design still starts with the occupancy and floorplate in mind, but if organisations want to thrive in this new era of work, attracting and retaining top talent, they need to create an environment that draws people in.

Globally, workplace cultures are changing, and this has caused a significant shift in the way we design offices. Gone are the days of corner offices and wearing corporate attire every day. The office is now an extension of our lifestyle – it’s a tool to help shape everyday experiences. The pandemic has fast-tracked this evolution, reminding us that deep down, we’re social creatures. I read in the recent Gensler 2021 design forecast that the pandemic helped us remember what’s truly important – life with other people. That’s why people-first design is the new currency in building communities.

Historically, around 10-15% of the floorplate would be designed as communal areas. Now, 35-40% of the office is becoming social and collaborative spaces, supporting connection, gatherings and celebrations. These environments need to be multifunctional and adaptable. One area might be used for several functions – for example, a content creation studio, a space to screen films or an area to encourage social activities and knowledge sharing.

Design that nurtures culture

Design that nurtures culture

Pre-pandemic, we partnered with Access Group. Delving into their needs and requirements, we found they wanted to create a space that fostered a sense of pride and connection, celebrating the brand and its values. You can’t design culture – culture comes from the people within your organisation. But you can use office design to nurture culture, creating spaces that support work activities and brand values.

Access Group wanted to give something back to their staff, and provide people with the social spaces and technology they need to connect with colleagues and customers.

As software developers, the nature of Access Group’s work means they need an office environment to not only do their jobs effectively but also to interact with their customers. We designed their office pre-pandemic to support all of this, based on the principles most organisations are looking at today, and so the pandemic didn’t impact the design of the space. Their environment is an enabler. It encourages people to go back to the office, collaborate with team members and embrace that sense of comradery and community.


For many organisations, such as BLM lawfirm, the pandemic completely changed the way their people worked. BLM’s transition to homeworking accelerated the organisation’s paper-lite, digital-first strategy, enabling their people to work more flexibly long-term. The ‘forced experiment’ proved that working from home is not only possible, but an efficient way of working too.

The fast-track evolution of office design

We’re working with BLM to deliver an agile office environment that encourages teams to connect while promoting the brand’s values. They’re moving from three different buildings across fourteen floors to one central working space across four floors at Two New Bailey, Salford.

We created ‘neighbourhoods’ where specialist teams can come together and collaborate as well as a large central ‘town hall’ area where people across the organisation can meet, socialise and share ideas. Alongside more social spaces, BLM wanted to provide environments for employees to retreat to, and so we’re also building a wellbeing room on each floor.

When designing more flexible, multifunctional workspaces, it’s important to remember that people still need to feel they have their own space to store their belongings. For BLM, we’re introducing locker rooms so people are able to work from a variety of settings while still having a safe place to keep their work or personal possessions.

The pandemic’s impact on workplace design

There was a time when designers would take a brief like a shopping list. Now, we’re working with a clean sheet – there’s no set guidance on what the office must be. The pandemic has shown us that most process work can be done at home, so hybrid working will become the norm for many organisations. The office now needs to offer something that the home environment can’t. Leaders need to ask themselves “what’s the new purpose of the office?”.

The office might be a place to celebrate your brand, your people and your culture. It can be a place to meet, create and collaborate. There are no limitations anymore. Office design should be centred around the uniqueness of the organisation and the experience you want to create for your people and customers.

The future of office design

As a designer, this is an extremely exciting time. While some organisations may choose to reduce their floorplate, there is so much more we can do with that space. As work becomes more flexible, our environments will likely become more concentrated and the need to adapt will be stronger.

Using smart modular design, we can create multi-functional office spaces that can be easily reconfigured. We need to build the right infrastructure so an area can quickly adapt and change. The key is to listen to your people. What do they need? What do they want? And what purpose will the office help deliver?

The office should be viewed as a tool. It’s important to show your team how to use it and enable them to do so much more fulfilling and productive work as a result.


Continue your Workplace [R]Evolution today

Download our free publication the Workplace [R]Evolution: Issue 2 or contact our team to find out more.

Workplace [R]Evolution: Issue 2
Workplace [R]Evolution: Issue 2

With dispersed workforces set to remain, organisations are adopting hybrid working models at a rapid pace, taking learnings from activity based working, utilising technology and empowering employees to choose how and where they want to work. In the second edition of our publication, we’ve explored the challenges and solutions of managing a hybrid workplace, how technology is helping bring people back to the office and the evolution of office design.

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