Tim Crocker
Guy Archard
Turner Works

The office brought us all together. It was a place that conferred identity and daily rhythm. Has it gone? Do you miss it? The remote work experiment brought on by Covid-19 has changed all the rules. Yet these disruptive changes have huge potential to improve the where, how and why of our workplaces. At Turner Works we have a track record of designing flexible places for rapid change of use – from using containers to provide instant workspace at Pop Brixton to creating a long-term, loose-fit cultural campus at Mountview to developing step-by-step strategies for short, medium and long term regeneration of town centres at Newhaven and Weston-Super-Mare.


In light of our experience and ongoing thinking here’s six thoughts on the new workplace.

1. The Office Breaks Free

If, like 60% of the UK, you’re usually office based it’s likely that back in March you started working from home with barely a break in your step. This, apparently seamless, shift means that we could be heading for the sustainable and effective work-life balance that office workers have been seeking for decades. Amongst the undoubted advantages, remote working also presents many distinct challenges. People learn from and mentor each other through overhearing conversations and solving problems together. Video conferencing demands extra concentration leading to fatigue. The lack of face to face contact can bring a feeling of isolation. To work effectively we think that people do need to come together some of the time and not everyone has a home that is suitable for working in alone. To accommodate these new variable work patterns we believe the workplace will break free of the office to become multi-sited, from a collaborative centre to a local hub to a place to work at home.

2. The Collaborative Centre

In the workplaces at the centre of our cities and towns, we are going to start coming together because we want to rather than because we have to. There are strong reasons for this: to nurture yourself and others; to get things done and to create culture. Through a shift away from a one size for all routine can the rhythm of the city be smoother? Can it still have culture, commerce and vibrancy but actually create more space to enjoy these things? With an increase in cycling and walking and the transformation of commercial uses for living, learning, culture and community, cities could nourish micro-centres to produce a more sustainable and resilient model for the future. Our work on new strategies for town centres such as Catford in London now has an even greater urgency and potential, allowing a renewed high street to develop as a vibrant centre for new homes, collaborative workplaces, amenities, identity and community.

3. The Local Hub

At our Hackney studio base the 15-minute city – where all the amenities you need to live and work are within a short walk from your home – is firmly in place. We think this model also works outside London. As Covid restrictions loosened we saw our new Coachworks project in Ashford begin to flourish as a local hub. The office spaces have rapidly filled up with entrepreneurs and creatives who are making it their own. These shared work hubs can provide a base for small companies and individuals or an alternative to going into the central office for employees of larger organisations. The vibrant atmosphere enables connections, the workspace is designed for focus and the onsite amenities such as a café and grocery shop that are useful for everyday life.

4. The Office at Home

Depending on who you are, your career stage and what you do, working from home can be exactly what you always wanted, a noisy battle or a lonely experience.  There are basics to get right like a space of your own, fast broadband, a good ergonomic set up and systems to chat with clients and colleagues. Finding the right balance in homework is key – just one day a week or nearly all the time. We believe that the home working shift will impact residential design. At our Ugly House to Lovely House scheme we designed a transformable space that used simple joinery to go from bedroom to office in two moves. Small pre-fabricated buildings will provide garden offices for single homes. A container office can be placed on the forecourt of shared apartment buildings.

5. A Design Toolkit for the Flexible Workspace

What kind of spatial design and furniture will these new workplaces need? Many recent offices are activity based; rather than a personal workstation, space settings are designed to suit activity particular activities and people use different spaces for different tasks. Whilst this strategy supports diverse work patterns in a spatially-efficient way, issues such as lower productivity in open plan offices and constraints on the availability of space at peak times remain. To tackle these issues, we believe a modular approach providing flexibility is key. At a central London office refurb project, our experience of working with the modular and pre-made is helping us to create a toolkit of elements for the new workplace. Through using simple modular elements of lighting tracks, curtains and modular rooms the new workplace can be used in different ways from hour to hour, adapted from one day to the next and re-used in a different layout for longer term.

6. Meanwhile all the While

Even a lockdown in a pandemic didn’t change the rapid pace of office work. With a high likelihood of new crises to come, change is here to stay. We’ve learned from our meanwhile projects that when underused spaces are repurposed for short term use they start to build a character, pattern of use and community around them. This is the first step in making a memorable place. We think this step by step approach to placemaking in the city can be transferred to the workplace – whether it’s at home, at a local hub or in the city centre – offering huge potential for the new now and the future.