The office is dead, long live the office

There is plenty of existential thinking around the concept of the office at present: Do you need one? If you do, what role will it play? What is the impact of those decisions on culture? There are also practical considerations around office costs and benefits, and of course, how to make it safe.


The Chase Architecture are already helping firms think about how to maintain the required distancing within an open plan environment, how to get staff to and from the office safely, and how to create a safe flow for people around the office.

They look at how to combine home and office working, the impact of start and finish times, staggered shifts, how arrivals and departures should impact on office design. They consider how better design can help people travel to work safely, what they do when they are there, how intelligent design can help have safe and constructive meetings.

They assess how buildings can work in a socially distanced environment; desks, lifts, stairs, configuring WCs, fire doors, sanitiser stations, kitchens, office flow and break out space too.


This is predicated on the notion that the office is not going to disappear, it's just going to change. There are some fundamental reasons why anyone thinking of doing away with their office completely should not be too hasty. In Rebel Ideas, Matthew Syed argues that Silicon Valley and not Norfolk County, Boston became the global high tech hub due to the informal sharing of ideas. Despite many structural advantages, firms on the East Coast of the USA were physically isolated from each other. In Santa Clara, people socialised, competed, traded stories, shared ideas and built contacts in the local bars. Face-to-face interaction with other humans was the critical element in individual and wider success. So it is no surprise that geographical hubs are created. In London, Soho is the heart of the creative film industry, Clerkenwell for architecture and design and Old Street Roundabout for technology, for example.

“...collaborative workplaces are catalysers of creative thinking. It’s much harder to bounce ideas off each other on your own at home.” Philip Thornton, The Chase Architecture

In one of the most creative and successful business I worked in, we didn't sit in functional teams. Consequently ideas and communication flowed freely throughout. I've never been a smoker, but I've always gone for cigarette breaks - it's where friends are made, boundaries are broken down, ideas and knowledge is shared. Culture is heavily affected by physical environment. Investment in office spaces matters and Isolation can be a destructive force in business just as much as in society.


In one of the most creative and successful business I worked in, we didn't sit in functional teams. Consequently ideas and communication flowed freely throughout. I've never been a smoker, but I've always gone for cigarette breaks - it's where friends are made, boundaries are broken down, ideas and knowledge is shared. Culture is heavily affected by physical environment. Investment in office spaces matters and Isolation can be a destructive force in business just as much as in society.


“As good as technology is, it cannot yet beat people physically working together. We’re getting by online, but its not half as creative as doing it together. The edge just isn’t there when we’re surrounded by the home environment. Nappies, snacks and distractions like our beautiful partners are all in the way.”

— Philip Thornton, The Chase Architecture


More senior people making the decisions about the future of the office are likely to be living in bigger homes, by merit of a larger income. You can expect that they are able to work from home effectively. Less senior people are more likely to be in smaller spaces, where working from home maybe impractical and uncomfortable. Being aware of the wider roles that the office plays in peoples’ lives is essential. Furthermore, for many the office is a critical source of social connection that they can't wait to get back to. The office can be a force for good in mental and physical well-being.


Whilst home and flexible working have accelerated and aren't going away, neither is the office. Thinking carefully about how to get the best out of your office space, your people and your culture needs to be worked out together, not in isolation. In fact, the opportunity exists to make people even more productive and collaborative than they were before by getting the best out of them wherever they are.


Here are some important questions to ask:

  • How can I quantify the impact my office has on performance,?

  • How does working environment impact on people and productivity?

  • How do I set up by business to create the most positive culture, open communication, and effective collaboration?

  • Practically, how can I create the best and safest office environment?

Asking the right questions and finding the most powerful data to answer these is the starting point. The firms that succeed are the ones that will most effectively solve these puzzles.

  • Twitter
Company Number: 12454852
Registered address: Your Human Factors, c/o Stollaris Trading, 1 Park Road, Hampton Wick, Kingston Upon Thames, KT1 4AS
London, England, UK