This time last year, it was almost inconceivable that a large part of the workforce would spend much of 2020 working from home. Now, some people find the idea of going back to an office equally hard to accept. 

Fiza Malhotra, Global Marketing Director for the design consultancy Space Matrix, suggests the return to the office is easier for employees if they have the right workplace.  

“If people have a well designed office, they want to go back to it. This is especially true if they are at home with their dogs, cats, and kids climbing over them and they don’t have space to work,” said Fiza. 

So, what does a well-designed office look like in the new normal? In the latest episode of Future of Work, Now, we turned to Fiza to find out.


What workplaces will look like in 2021 and beyond

Space Matrix works with customers to design their ideal workplace based on the needs of their employees, the work they perform, and their physical environment. However, the pandemic has shattered some assumptions about how we should work. It has also created new needs, such as social distancing. 

“There were a lot of people who wanted to work from home before the pandemic, but they were deemed lazy or seen to be slacking off. Another assumption people made was that we had to create a way of working for each generation in the workplace,” said Fiza. “COVID-19 came along and it was a leveler. Everyone had to work from home and then we had to change how we looked at the workplace.” 

Many companies across Asia have either returned or are in the process of returning to the office. While their employees may crave human connection, they still have concerns about safety. 

Space Matrix has developed a five-point path of key design solutions to address the concerns of those re-entering the office. The first of these is smart space planning to promote collaboration while ensuring social distancing. Other design solutions focus on protecting against surface contamination and using technology to reduce contact with touchpoints like doors and light switches. 

Culture and behaviour also play an important role in safety. Design can be useful in this regard and influence how people move through a space. For example, clearly defined entry and exit points help to ensure people move in a single direction. 

“The overall theme around all of this is wellbeing. Employees need to feel safe and motivated at work. It’s why we use a lot of biophilia to create a sense of calm. This includes natural elements like water walls and lots of greenery to divide spaces. All of these things together give employees a space where they feel safe and innovative. They feel collaborative and they know their company is looking after them,” said Fiza.


Final tips for a smooth return to the workplace

With employee mental health a real concern, companies need to be mindful of how they ease the transition back to the workplace. Walking into a clinical environment with temperature checks can be overwhelming and negate the enthusiasm some may feel about being back in the office with colleagues. 

“How you transition back to the workplace is critical. You don’t want people to feel that they are walking back into a clinic because that can cause a lot of anxiety. Instead, open your imagination. You might use technology, like a robot, to check people in and take their temperature without them even realising. You can also use plants, beautiful graphics, and soothing music to create a vibe that reduces anxiety,” said Fiza.

Fiza stresses that it is not about making a space cosy, but about considering all of the safety elements and being thoughtful about wellbeing: “People want to feel welcome and safe and that’s a huge opportunity for companies to start thinking about.”


Listen to the podcast to hear more from Fiza, including her thoughts on how companies can support employees remaining at home. 

Access the podcast on demand at our podcasts page, Spotify, and iTunes. You can also listen over at the Singapore Community Radio Twitch page, Facebook page, and website

Tune into our next episode at 1:00 p.m. SGT Friday, February 19 and hear from Anthea Ong, Founder, Hushtea Bar.

Sign up here for our Salesforce Asia Blog newsletter to get monthly updates on the latest Salesforce stories.