A worker sits in an all-green office space
Architecture Plus Information’s design for New York–based advertising agency Le Truc is one colorful, convivial idea of what the post-pandemic workplace might look and feel like.

What’s the Future of the Workplace? Ask the Workers

Metropolis’s May/June 2023 issue looks at the different levels of freedom and agency that workers have in a post-pandemic world.

Any space should serve the needs of the people who will interact with it the most. That seems like an obvious statement to make, but in reality, it’s not always the way things go. Workplace design projects, for example, are primarily controlled by clients—i.e., the people who pay for design services. Projects may include extensive consultation with employees (i.e., the people who will use the space the most), but insights from all those listening sessions, charrettes, and other user research programs are filtered through decisions made by the bosses.

The past three years have given us an eye-opening lesson in people’s true preferences for how and where they work. Thanks to a global pandemic, a labor market that favors job seekers, and erratic economic circumstances, workers have made choices that weren’t always the ones their bosses would have liked them to make.

Workplace design projects are primarily controlled by clients—i.e., the people who pay for design services. 

The dust hasn’t quite settled on the great workforce experiment of the 2020s yet, so there are no easy conclusions to be drawn, except one: If we want to create work conditions that are engaging and meaningful to the workforce, then designers and clients have to change their terms of engagement on workplace design projects.

Step 1:
Acknowledge that the office, home, coffee shop, and coworking space are not the only choices available to employers and employees today. In “Work From Elsewhere” our editorial project manager Lauren Volker lays out four other emerging typologies of spaces designed for work. 

Step 2:
Designing for productivity is a dead end—experts can barely agree on what productivity is anyway. Instead, listen to study after study in which workers tell us they value the personal and social dimensions of work the most, and as Architecture Plus Information did in its workplace for Le Truc (“That Return to Office Thing”), think of your project brief as “building a container for relationships.”

Step 3:
Find a higher purpose for workplace design projects where possible. Undertaking a deep community engagement process taught the team at MSR Design that when they were creating Mill 19 (“Postindustrial Innovation”) they were designing not just a place for one group of people to work but also a place of healing for another set who felt as if they had been left behind.

Step 4:
Keep an eye on the ways corporate structures are evolving. Metropolis editor at large Verda Alexander examines one such increasingly popular evolution, the employee-owned company (“When the Workers Become the Bosses”), to understand its implications for design.

Above all, we must avoid even the slightest suggestion that workers are research objects to be studied or reluctant subjects who must be coaxed into the “right” behaviors. Instead, designers, clients, and their workforces have the opportunity to cocreate the working conditions of the next century—the opportunity of a lifetime, if we approach it with humility and respect for one another. 

Here are all the stories from the May/June 2023 issue:


At All Scales

Projects and Profiles

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