The future of office towers

2 minutes

Montreal centre-ville

The confinement has forced us to rethink how we work, leading even the most refractory managers to allow their employees to work from home . . . For better or worse.
“The pandemic has sped up our reflections concerning working from home vs. working from the office, as well as how workplaces should be designed and laid out,” says Anne-Laure Saives, professor in the Management Department at UQÀM’s École supérieure de gestion (ESG). Teleworking—that much-desired employee privilege—has proven its worth, and a work-from-home/work-from-the-office hybrid model is slowly beginning to emerge, transforming our view of the 9 to 5 structure. “We’re witnessing a return to home life, and what COVID-19 has shown us is that people are happy about that,” continues Professor Saives.

Consequently, this blurring of work and home lives has its fair share of repercussions onlodging. “More and more, people are prioritizing teleworking; a new need is seeing the light of day,” points out Patrick Blanchette, Senior Associate at Blanchette Architectes, a firm responsible for numerous office spaces in the downtown core.

The office of the future will no longer include small, assigned spaces, but rather a large area conducive to cooperation and teamwork, small conference rooms, temporary workspaces, and areas where employees can brainstorm and exchange data. “One of the primary functions of any office tower is its digital safe,” explains Saives. “Assuming that everyone will start working from home, leaving the city’s office towers empty, is assuming that a company’s digital transformation is over, which is far from being the case, if you ask me,” she adds.

A new city

 

Sanitary issues will need to be taken into account by architects in charge of designing offices. Less expensive to build and trendier than the common cubicle, open-air offices were extremely popular these past few years, but began to decline even before the virus appeared. “The problem with open-air offices is that if your ventilation system isn’t up to par, bacteria will spread much quicker,” explains Blanchette.

Most of his current clients are requesting more sanitary plans, including optimal ventilation and permanent disinfecting stations. “Every pandemic comes with its share of gains in terms of sanitation and hygiene,” says Blanchette, stressing the fact that these new measures appear to be here to stay.

Is it the end of the office as we know it? Not entirely. “Offices will always exist, because companies need their headquarters to demonstrate their values, who they are,” continues the senior associate.

An office’s location and design act as an internal and external communication strategy, reinforcing the space any given company chooses to occupy within the commercial ecosystem that surrounds it. As such, this new perception that we have of our workspace must not become black or white, or in other words, simply divided between the home and office. “There’s something exciting about working from home, a bit like an artist who chooses to work from anywhere, whether it be a public place or their own home studio,” points out Professor Saives.

And as for the downtown core? Well it’s the perfect opportunity for it to reinvent itself. “The 400,000 people who work downtown are the pulse of the city,” says Saives. We can’t have them all working from home; yes, development will slow down, but it won’t stop entirely. The Ville-Marie borough is more than promising on that front. “I don’t think this is the end of downtown, quite the contrary,” concludes Blanchette on a positive note.