What will the office of the future look like? That question has been debated extensively since the onset of the pandemic, which saw a dramatic shift to remote and hybrid work models. But according to architect Christian Giordano, President and Co-owner of 100+-year-old national design firm Mancini Duffy, there won’t be any one-size-fits-all solution.
“It depends on the market and the sector and the type of company you are,” Giordano says. “And that’s a good thing.”
In our recent interview, Giordano shared his perspective on how offices are being reimagined for the post-COVID era. He predicts that the offices of the future will be highly customized to meet the needs of each individual company. Gone are the days when every company aspired to emulate the ultra-hip vibe of Silicon Valley tech giants like Google. Now the focus is on understanding how your employees work and creating spaces tailored to their workflow.
The Allure of the Office Is Fading for Many
Giordano observes that many employees have lost enthusiasm for schlepping into an office 5 days a week, especially in congested urban areas like New York City. The grind of a lengthy commute has become less tolerable after years of remote work. And that’s being exacerbated by policies like New York’s new congestion pricing rules, which will charge vehicles entering Manhattan.
As a result, many office towers in NYC are sitting half-empty, especially older ones. Many organizations are downsizing their spaces dramatically or letting leases lapse. This has created a dilemma for landlords: Either slash rents or find new tenants.
Giordano predicts the older buildings will increasingly be repurposed. Some may be partially converted to apartments. Others will take on new life as nonprofit centers, medical clinics, or even vertical farms.
This reluctance to return full time has forced companies to reassess the allure of a central office. Many employees now prefer to do focused work at home without interruptions, and they’re selective about when face time is truly necessary.
When employees do come in, what do they need from an office? According to Giordano, forward-thinking clients are asking: “How do you work? What do you want to get out of your office space?” They realize cookie-cutter designs are obsolete.
For instance, at architecture firms, Giordano has found a hybrid schedule enhances productivity. Individual focused work happens at home. Then, employees come into their office 2–3 days weekly for collaborative sessions and team meetings. This allows uninterrupted blocks of time for concentration while preserving camaraderie.
To enable this workflow, offices are incorporating more private enclaves. Workers need quiet places for Zoom calls without distracting colleagues nearby. There are also more multipurpose conference rooms of varying sizes and configurations to prevent Zoom fatigue.
But balancing stimuli is crucial. Totally open floor plans are out. So are heavily closed-off cubicle farms. Workers need flexibility to socialize or isolate throughout the day.
While remote work is often efficient, Giordano stresses that solely virtual careers have downsides, too, especially for new hires. In-person bonding and fun still matter. Mancini Duffy’s offices cultivate community via communal tables, games, award ceremonies, and parties. Giordano explains, “Physical space can do that. … If you never physically interact with other people, I don’t know if that’s necessarily a great thing.”
Additionally, some companies hold periodic immersive sessions during which on-site presence is mandatory, such as financial quarterly closes or product launches. Workflows are analyzed to determine when these critical collaborative periods occur. Office time is then concentrated into these productive windows.
Previously, sought-after amenities like gyms and cafes were scattered throughout buildings. Now, Giordano sees a trend toward consolidated amenity hubs. The idea is to get employees off isolated floors and interfacing in vibrant, multipurpose common spaces for at least part of the day.
Ground floors or rooftops might offer everything from barista coffee bars to bowling alleys and music studios. Outdoor areas for relaxation or walking meetings are also popular. Events can spill into these amenity spaces seamlessly.
Some landlords are even offering basic spec office space for their tenants, then investing capital into making their shared facilities truly magnificent. They believe this is how to attract tenants in a competitive leasing environment.
In addition to understanding employee workflows, Giordano says reading corporate culture is equally crucial when designing spaces. He highlights the example of a financial institution seeking a floor of private offices. This environment of solitude and focus aligns with their buttoned-up, heads-down ethos despite being counter to recent trends.
On the flipside, a nonprofit wanted to embody openness and transparency. Its new headquarters literally puts every activity on display via glass walls and communal areas.
In both cases, the client’s values were translated into concrete design choices by Mancini’s team. When offices mirror culture, they become beloved places to work rather than soulless spaces that could be anywhere.
Giordano warns against assumptions when planning for the future of work. Pre-pandemic, employers rushed to emulate Silicon Valley’s ultra-relaxed vibe. This led to open spaces that actually hindered focused work.
Now the opposite risk exists. Leaders who rarely go into offices declare nobody wants to return. In reality, their youngest and newest staff often crave in-person camaraderie and mentorship.
Giordano states, “Junior people may not realize what they’re missing.” Blanket policies mean well but can miss the mark. There are always exceptions.
Giordano makes a compelling case that forward-thinking companies are customizing their spaces based on how their employees actually work. They are also carefully considering company culture when designing offices rather than blindly chasing trends. That’s what I’m advising my clients to do in helping them figure out their hybrid work policies.
As we move into the post-pandemic era, executives would be wise to follow their example. Seek direct input from your staff about when and why they most want to be together in person. Be open to dissenting perspectives, not just the loudest voices. Then, tailor your spaces and policies accordingly, keeping business needs and cultural ethos at the forefront.
With intention and flexibility, your real estate can become an asset rather than a burden in recruiting and retaining talent. When offices align with workers’ values and reflect their voices, they become vibrant hubs that employees are excited to inhabit. At its best, an office fuses purpose-built design with a living, breathing cultural heart.
Dr. Gleb Tsipursky is CEO of Disaster Avoidance Experts.