Back to work: what if COVID saved the office?

Office buildings across the world are reopening, but things are really not the way they were. As we go back to work, the time has come to reassess what the office is actually for. What if COVID actually saved the office?

When office buildings sat empty during the pandemic, some predicted their imminent demise. After all, as we have learned over the past 24 months none of us really need offices to work and even collaborate. But when something becomes less of a necessity – real or imagined, less of a commonplace, it opens the door for radical change.

But when something becomes less of a necessity real or imagined, less of a commonplace, it opens the door for radical change.

Accelerating change

Workspace typologies have evolved over time and some companies have pioneered alternative settings for working, introducing living rooms, game rooms, wellness spaces, and indoor gardens. In particular co-working spaces go above and beyond creating homely functions to look specifically unlike an office. Space and brand are essentially one for co-working spaces; for corporate offices they are not.

COVID has at once erased the requirement for employees to spend the majority of their days in the office while creating a distinct new need to foster connections between co-workers (time and place independent) and the company itself. Combined with the practicality to reinvent the office interior while staff works from home, COVID may actually have accelerated a much-needed change.

What if your office could be meaningful rather than merely functional in a similar way that your home is?

Think about it: what if coming to the office could be transformed into a rewarding experience you may go through only once every week or even less? What if each time you do go in, it enhances the interaction with your colleagues, clients, and collaborators? In short: what if your office could be meaningful – rather than merely functional – in a similar way that your home is?

Successful retailers have gone this route before: online shopping and brick-and-mortar stores each offer distinct advantages. The same could be true for hybrid solutions that alternate working remotely with days at the office, but companies will need a spatial branding strategy to make this work.

Spatial branding for Unilever Benelux Headquarters

Strategic purpose of spatial branding

A client recently confided that they struggled to explain what we contribute to their extensive office revitalization project. While they personally understood the added value, some of their peers questioned the investment in spatial branding. After all, the company already had a plethora of manuals and guidelines delineating principal design choices and how to integrate the corporate brand – exuding its omnipresent brand essence – into the physical space. And there was also the corporate art collection to further decorate offices.

While both corporate communications and art can have a place in the office, they do not add up to a branded spatial experience that inspires interaction and fosters value-driven connections – matters of strategic importance. Who wants to work in a corporate brochure or among an endless bombardment of products? Because brand assets are usually created for different purposes, environments decked in corporate colors schemes, slogans, and logos will lose their appeal fast.

Companies should strategically envision the office space as both a functional and emotional expression of their business.

Functional and emotional

At Silo, we often use a simple diagram to talk conversations about our work. It positions us firmly between the work of interior architects and the brand identity and communication design. Winning Dezeen Awards in both an interior category and for graphic design point exactly to that intersection of disciplines. Moreover, the diagram connects the functional to the emotional on the level of the brand within a spatial environment.

Companies should strategically envision the office space as both a functional and emotional expression of their business. As designers, we support this by creating new and exciting interventions which are as much branding as a logo, and as much interior architecture as fixed furniture: yet neither of the two. Returning to the office should feel like a step forward. It is time for office real estate to reflect that.

Rogier Coopmans

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