The future of smart office, after COVID-19

The 2020 SEOUL DESIGN INTERNATONAL FORUM has obtained written consent from the speaker to publish the summarized and edited content

SPEAKER: Fay Cho (CEO, Dawon Design)

The spread of the corona virus in 2020 has caused rapid changes in work patterns due to the normalization of working at home. Although there is a realistic limit to building a work environment with a specific concept in an unprepared situation, efforts are being made to respond to these changes in their own way, and each company needs time to compromise to create a safer work environment. It is time for designers to make efforts to find the interface between a space that harmoniously connects people and a space that prioritizes safety. Although it is necessary to change the philosophy of space itself, it is expected that human attempts to challenge the limits will continue.

 [Change of office form]

Recently, interest in smart office is rapidly increasing. The smart office, which has emerged after the open office, is a concept for a rational and smart space centered on people. We aim for collaboration and cooperation, and pursue a variety of environments suitable for various types of work activities in multiple offices rather than assigned seats.

In addition, with the concept of a new workspace design, there is a need to try an agile office beyond the smart office, and in an era of rapid change through a more flexible working type (a mixed form of working from home and office) and a design that can be physically changed easily in one space so requirements can be continuously reflected in the work space.


Open office in 1974 was composed of a simple layout with CPU and monitors, and there was a modular partition for individual privacy. Over time, independent spaces have been removed from the office in the photo on the upper right, and employees are using work spaces in one space in units of stations, still separating personal spaces with high partitions.


As time passed and the importance of communication became more prominent, the height of the partitions in the work space decreased a lot, and the seating arrangement of executives and employees also changed. With the advent of laptops, the desk space was widened and communication and collaboration were emphasized, creating a working lounge in the form of a living room. The smart office started as rest areas and plants were placed in the office, and even the partitions that had been maintained until recent were removed and transformed into a space where communication is emphasized more.

 [Recent office type, ABW (Activity-based working)]

The most recent smart office type has installed stairs inside to connect space and inserted meeting rooms and collaboration spaces everywhere so that employees can work in positions that suit their personalities and tasks. This form is called activity-based working (ABW). This refers to an office in the form of working in a place that suits each employee's personality and sharing shared space.


Activity-based working office


Veldhoen and Company

In the office space of Veldhoen and Company, a space research company, a working lounge was created in the most important space to maximize collaboration and increase productivity. This space, which functions not a resting space but as a work space, is called a working lounge.

Boston Consulting Group NY Office      


Boston Consulting Group Seattle Office


The office space of a bus consulting firm in New York is the most effective example of ABW. The round-shaped wall is structured in such a way that anyone can say hello as they pass by and emphasize collaboration. A working lounge in the form of a living room and a library was created in an important space for the office of the Seattle branch of the same company so that employees can collaborate smoothly. Workers on the second floor have to go through the first floor to enter and exit, so that they can meet once in a while.

[The emergence of the agile workplace]


The workplace is changing from a workplace to a smart office. Recently, more active forms of agile workplaces have emerged. The purpose of this development is to improve work ability, use space efficiently, reflect the organizational culture of each company, and flexibly respond to changes in the organization. ABW is a form of giving autonomy in choosing a work space according to a work method that is performed more accurately than a smart office.


 [Change of office paradigm after COVID 19]

With the coronavirus outbreak in 2020, there are four issues worth noting. Do we need face-to-face contact in an office environment? Should it be non-contact? Should we meet each other and have a meeting? It is a question of whether digital communication should be done.


Accordingly, the office paradigm also began to change. In the past, there was a form of telecommuting, but in general, it was a form of working together in a work space, but now the form or work and space are changing, and the company culture is also changing. In the past, when collaborating, it was essential to obtain information through face-to-face meeting, but now it is a time when non-face-to-face meeting is needed, and we have been looking for an efficient way to conduct a meeting in a lighter way for communication and collaboration.


The existing typical office space was large and fixed, but now a light and flexible space is required. In organizing the office space, it is necessary to consider hygiene, privacy, data sharing, hardware arrangement, a system that can conduct online conferences and video conferences, and flexible systems for telecommuting and commuting.

[Four types of working spaces]

We will investigate the four types of work space through the example of an architectural office space that requires a new office space.

a. Culture Club used as a meeting place


The first is a proposal to reduce the typical office space and create a Culture Club that can be used as a meeting place. The central space where meetings are held in a free standing state can be free from the problem of seating and corporate culture can be formed horizontally.

b. Co-Working space


Community Nodes is a proposal to create a base office. In other words, it is a form of reducing the number of existing offices, but maintaining the central office and installing a base office closer to home. In the current spreading trend, shared offices such as WeWork and Spark Plus have been attracting attention, and these spaces have been actively used as base offices since the start of the pandemic. In Korea, KT tried to establish a base office about 10 years ago, but it was not successful at that time, and SKT successfully built a number of base offices in 2020 and is gradually spreading the concept.

c. Implementation of the rotating work system

Part of the working day is divided into office work and the rest working from home. In Korea, Yuhan-Kimberly, Naver, Kakao, and Lotte Duty Free are adopting this rotation system.


d. Office Relocation (Collective)


When relocating the office, you can refer to how a patterned carpet is laid in the Cushman & Wakefield office space in the US to keep a certain distance when arranging the desks or how Bergmeyer relocated the staff for a rotating shift system. In order to reduce the number of workers in the office and reduce contact in the space, they divided the groups into groups to go to work, and applied a method of crossing one seat at a time when seated. Various modular furniture that can be separated or raised again is receiving attention again.

 [Case of Agile Office and Open Ground Project in Corona Virus Era]

We would like to introduce a project case that reflects the needs of office space that is newly required after the spread of Coronavirus.

Since the company needed an agile office that can adapt to changes as quickly as possible in line with the current trend, two proposals were made: Open ground and My room.

The first concept, 'Open Ground', considers maximum space flexibility to respond immediately to unpredictable changes. It looks like a typical office space layout, but except for a fixed room, everything such as a library and furniture is movable and flexible for induced space utilization. The second concept of ‘My Room’ is to separate individuals by dividing the space, but apply a method of directing various types of personal space. It has the characteristics of allowing individual intensive work and experiencing various spaces at the same time.

The company uses several floors of the building as offices, and has chosen to apply the two concepts to different floors, and is currently in the process of verifying the effectiveness of each.


 [Pros and cons of telecommuting and office work]

As we go through an unexpected pandemic, we have various experiences with the pros and cons of each type of work. If we look at the characteristics of the work type according to some criteria, we can first find out that costs are occurring in a different area than before in terms of costs. Although there are differences between companies, IT companies provide support for telecommuters to purchase desks, chairs, and IT equipment, and additional costs related to hygiene products and quarantine are incurred within the office space.

In terms of productivity, in the case of telecommuting, even if an individual's work efficiency increases, problems may arise in collaboration and smooth communication. Field work has the advantage of smooth collaboration, but hygiene can be a problem, so the pros and cons of each work type are clearly revealed.

In terms of well-being, it is possible to mention the problems rather than the advantages of telecommuting. Because work is carried out in a residential space, work and life balance becomes unclear, and when an individual's living space is small, work efficiency may decrease or mental stress such as a feeling of alienation may increase.

 [Elements for a safe and efficient workplace]

In order to create a safe and efficient workplace after Coronavirus, if we summarize some factors, in the end, flexibility will be the most important factor. In a given space, closed space should coexist alongside open space and the individual space. If possible, use eco-friendly materials, create an environment where plants can coexist, and a touchless security system that opens an automatic door without direct contact or operates by biometrics is also required. It is also essential to establish a system for video conferencing and wired conferences.

Currently, we are in a kind of transitional period. There is a lot of confusion in the design process, but I think the most important thing when trying new things is ‘Design connects people’. Ultimately, a design that makes people feel comfortable, happy, and adapts to the environment should be created, and this direction will continue in the future. The space will constantly evolve technologically. Designers around the world need to think about design that considers environment and nature as well as safety and convenience in response to continuous development and changes in the future.

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