The Future of Work: What to Expect in 2023

2022 was certainly a year of surprises, not least of which were the “Great Resignation” and the failure of large-scale returns to office to materialize. While no one disagrees that the workplace has undergone tectonic changes, it is less clear how to understand these shifts and synthesize them into practical action for the coming year. BWBR looked to our workplace designers for their take on top trends for 2023. Their top tip? Organizations must accept that the reasons people come into the office have changed.

Flipping the Script

It used to be that the office was the place to get work done, and people stepped away to be inspired or recharge. That dynamic has flipped. Remote work allows staff uninterrupted time at home to focus, so accomplishing an individual’s day-to-day tasks is no longer a draw to physically return to an office. However, what the office does have to offer is a source of connection and energy — helping build relationships, provide inspiration, give meaning to the work, and promote learning and collaboration. Companies who understand and embrace this new dynamic have the opportunity to differentiate themselves and attract and retain top talent.

Since offices are competing with the home office, they need to be worth the extra drive time. Good ergonomics, a variety of private/focus and social spaces, wellness spaces, and high-quality video conferencing are the bare minimum that workers have come to expect, so companies will need to be creative to match their strategy to their culture and purpose. For example, one way BWBR has tackled this challenge is by initiating what we call Design Connect Days — coordinated, day-long events across all of our locations featuring mini design reviews spotlighting our teams and the work they are doing. These events offer both in-person and hybrid components for maximum flexibility and participation, but are specifically aimed at bringing people together to connect, learn, create, and collaborate.

One Size Does Not Fit All

Successful companies are refining their workplace strategies to fit their specific culture, workstreams, recruitment needs, and staff development strategies. While some organizations are requiring staff to come specific days (possibly tied to their function or department), others are requiring a number of days per week or month but leaving the specifics to the individuals, and yet others are allowing staff to have complete flexibility (this is where BWBR has landed). However, different strategies have different effects on space needs.

Companies need to allow for flexibility, providing a variety of spaces that can flex between assigned workspaces and shared, focus work and collaboration, in-person events and hybrid. This can seem like a daunting prospect, but approaching it as an evolution rather than a one-time shift can help. Prototyping can be helpful, allowing organizations to continue to evaluate and refine as they go. And for those looking at moving, consider operating in the new space for a while to figure out what kinds of functionality are really needed, then saving some of the space to build out in a future phase. It’s also important to factor in geographic and local considerations that may alter design solutions and highlight what amenities matter most to the local talent pool.

A touchdown station with brightly colored furniture and a whiteboard for collaboration.
SRF Consulting Group

Making Meetings Work

If the office is to become the source of energy and connection, then the practicalities of supporting hybrid collaboration must be handled successfully. Strategic organizations must commit to improving the hybrid meeting experience. For example, the traditional rectangular conference room setup doesn’t work as well in the hybrid world, where any given meeting might contain both in-person and remote participants. Or placing a screen high above the head of the table might be less inclusive and natural in a hybrid meeting than a screen positioned at eye level relative to participants. Table design and orientation, camera locations, acoustics, microphones, data/electrical, and lighting all need to be considered as part of both the remote and in-person experience.

Talent as a Driving Force

Although some sectors are getting nervous about a recession, unemployment remains low locally and nationally, and attracting and retaining talent is still a significant driver for remote and hybrid workplace offerings. We expect to see continued consolidation of space as these arrangements become permanent, especially when combined with the fact that, as people became comfortable working remotely, employees moved farther from their offices, further encouraging companies to hire for fully remote positions.

If we do enter a recession, it might create a sort of fork in the road, whereby some companies will further commit to hybrid work and unload the unused space that they have been holding onto, while others may feel the need for an “all hands on deck,” back-to-the-office approach, which could bring with it the risk of losing talent. Smart organizations will be proactively considering their plans, rather than waiting for the heat of the moment, and taking time to weigh the plusses and minuses of any shift, especially when it comes to their most valuable resource — their people.

Take it on Trust

Despite all the complexities of the current workplace environment, it really comes down to one simple thing: trust. Companies trusted their employees to work from home out of necessity during the pandemic, yet now some are saying that they don’t trust employees to make their own decision to work from home. Employees for their part appreciated the flexibility and autonomy they were given during the past few years, and many are bristling now when those benefits are being revoked. They want to be able to trust their employers to be transparent and operate in good faith regarding return-to-office decisions. If an organization does see a need to bring staff back in-office, the most important thing they can do to ensure success is to communicate the “why.” Employees want to understand the business case for in-person work, so it’s vital that the decision firstly be based on a solid business case and secondly that that reasoning be clearly transmitted to the whole staff with plenty of lead time before taking effect.

All of this adds up to trust being perhaps the most important metric of the new hybrid ecosystem. Organizations will do well to consider exactly what their true needs are, what their staff’s needs and wishes are, and how to best navigate the two while maintaining the trust they have in their staff and that their staff has in them. There’s no reason that hybrid can’t be a win-win, it just has to be approached thoughtfully and strategically, keeping in mind the organization’s culture, purpose, and goals.

Designing Smarter Spaces for Science and Technology

Interior design and architecture are often described as perfectly blending art, science, and technology. Part of the beauty of that blend is being able to craft spaces that look aesthetically pleasing and yet also have a lot going on behind the scenes, with every element meticulously planned to optimize efficiency and effectiveness.

Perhaps nowhere else does that blend matter more than when designing spaces specifically for the science and technology sector. At BWBR, we work with a number of high-tech firms in the medical device and biotech arenas. We’re often tasked with creating new lab spaces to help R&D teams innovate, and the stakes are high. It’s up to us to help set the stage for these teams to create critical breakthroughs. No pressure, right?

Fortunately, our team is very much up to the task.

The Science of Design

For a recent episode of our podcast Side of Design, Jarett Anderson sat down with BWBR design leader and architect Chris Fischer, and interior designer Kat Lauer, to talk about their work servicing our science and technology clients.

One word that came up again and again when discussing this type of work: complexity.

“These are spaces where we need to sweat the details,” said Jarett. “These spaces may seem clean and simple on the surface, but you have to pay attention to everything — the materials used in finishes, how things are insulated… you name it.”

The dry room's gowning area.
Medical Device Manufacturer Dry Room Expansion and Renovation

A lot of these spaces are heavily regulated with extraordinarily high operational standards and codes, so the spaces need to not only make it easier for lab technicians to do their best work, but to do so within very strict confines.

Keeping it Under Control

Chris points out that an added element is an ability to blend controlled environments (e.g., closed-off spaces that have specific humidity levels, air cleanliness, etc.) with transparency and flow so that as people come and go, they’re not disrupting the environment. “There are staff coming in, gases and storage and supplies, and waste coming out,” explains Jarett, and the specifics of that flow are unique to every individual client and project.

A corridor view into a quality control lab with a graphic design glass pattern.
Lifecore Biomedical Quality Control Lab

There are so many things to consider — how often are doors being opened? Can you eat lunch there? What’s the ventilation like? Is the environment set up for success in R&D while also providing a comfortable place for staff to work? Kat adds that investors and potential customers also may need to be able to access the working environment in order to get a feel for what’s happening, all while ensuring that the environment itself is protected.

Flex Space

As if that’s not enough to consider, there’s an increasing desire for these spaces to be both particular and flexible/adaptable. “When many people picture a lab, they picture what they might have experienced in high school or college with fixed casework,” says Kat. “But in an R&D facility, they want to be nimble and agile and move equipment around as their needs adjust.” Balancing that flexibility with meticulous, measurable standards for materials, air flow, chemical use, etc. — is a challenging task, to say the least.

Both Kat and Chris trained as scientists, attending graduate school for biophysics and molecular biology, respectively. That experience helps them in their work at BWBR as they envision what it will be like to work in a lab space on a day-to-day basis, really digging into the lived experience of the people who spend time there.

As scientists, Kat and Chris know how to plot and diagram, test and re-test, tweaking variables and formulas until they get the result they need. That experience is incredibly valuable for their clients and makes them uniquely suited to design in the science and technology sector.

Kat closes with a thought on how she pivoted from biophysics to interior design, a fitting end to a discussion of the intersection of art and science: “When I was in grad school and trying to figure out if I wanted to stay in science, I was spending more time organizing and labeling the lab than I was doing my experiments. I think that told me that maybe designing the space for the people who are going to change the world is more my place than running the experiments.”

To hear the full podcast, click here.

BWBR Awards Second Annual Scholarships for Equitable Design

BWBR recently awarded the firm’s second annual round of scholarships for equitable design. These awards celebrate the achievements and talents of deserving individuals who are furthering BWBR’s mission of supporting equity in design.

Each scholarship includes a $1,000 prize to a student of architecture, graphic design, or interior design, and applicants must submit a sample design project as well as a personal statement. The caliber of submissions was truly remarkable, and the team at BWBR is honored and inspired by their efforts.

Here’s a closer look at the scholarships and this year’s recipients.

Scholarship for Gender Equity in Design

The Scholarship for Gender Equity in Design is awarded to a woman, gender non-conforming, or trans applicant studying architecture, graphic design, or interior design. This year’s recipient is Saylee Bhogle, who is pursuing a Master of Science in Architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Saylee’s application centered on the idea of reconditioning Dharavi, an area of Mumbai that is frequently characterized as one of the world’s largest “slums.” Saylee envisions “incremental development” of Dharavi, addressing critical needs while acknowledging the humanity, economic potential, and social and cultural vibrancy that exists there today.

Saylee Bhogle's master plan design.
Saylee Bhogle’s Master Plan Design

Saylee’s project suggests that equitable architecture can hold both of these truths: there is value in what is, and there is value in making changes to ensure that requirements are met for “people of various socioeconomic statuses, physical abilities, genders, family structures, sexual orientations, and gender expressions.” Saylee writes that her “underlying attitude to this location is a conflicting desire to save it and replace it.” Ultimately, Saylee asserts that “architecture shapes lives” and “must be inclusive since it has significant societal implications.”

Saylee Bhogle's section renderings.
Saylee Bhogle’s Project Renderings

Scholarship for Diversity and Inclusion in Design

The Scholarship for Diversity and Inclusion in Design is awarded to a student who identifies as BIPOC and who is studying architecture, graphic design, or interior design. This year’s recipient is Nicole Niava, who is pursuing a Master of Architecture at Yale University.

Nicole’s application centers on biophilic diversity and the belief that “the built environment can transform one’s life trajectory.” Nicole’s project establishes sustainability standards by introducing timber as the primary building material for affordable housing development in Queens, New York.

Nicole Niava's building section design.
Nicole Niava’s Building Section Design

Nicole “believes in architecture that begins with life: providing accessible housing to nurture families and their culture; creating healthy work environments and recreational spaces to be a magnet for opportunities for all; shaping public spaces and streets to invite communities to flourish.” She writes that “as a black female designer, my approach goes beyond delivering beautiful and functional spaces and aims to respond to diverse communities and their holistic needs, emphasizing healing, wellness, and empowerment.”

Nicole Niava's exploded axonometric design.
Nicole Niava’s Exploded Axonometric Design and Renderings

The Intersection of Equity and Design

Both winning submissions acknowledge and respect the cultural, social, and economic value that exists within their proposed project sites. It’s not about “fixing,” but rather holistically enhancing the built environment in order to further support the diverse needs of the people who call these spaces home. BWBR is honored and humbled to have had a chance to explore these inspired — and inspiring — ideas, as well as the many other impressive applications we received. With thoughtful, talented minds like these emerging in the world of architecture and design, the future is in very good hands.

Congratulations to both Saylee and Nicole, and thank you to all the talented applicants who submitted! Learn more or apply for future awards at