Image by Bryan Wong and Cheryl Chow, Gensler.
Image by Bryan Wong and Cheryl Chow, Gensler.
A large building with graphic characters on it.

8 Trends to Watch: Economic Headwinds Will Help Us Focus on What We Value

Editor’s Note: This blog is part of our Design Forecast blog series, looking at what’s next in 2023 and beyond.

As we begin reset planning for the new year, one thing is for certain: there is no crystal ball, and we need to let post-pandemic patterns and attitudes evolve while planning for future flexibility, nuance, and performance.

Reflecting on 2022, I believe that our renewed focus on empathy, inclusion, and resilience created a pathway for a hopeful future. Here are eight trends to watch in 2023 that will be shaped by what we value:

1. Erosion of social capital at the workplace makes culture central.

More than ever, with hybrid working, intentionally activating culture enables employees and businesses to thrive. We know that culture is the most powerful driver of organizational success. Culture activations can vary in scale and may include spatial, behavioral, structural, and operational interventions specifically designed to achieve an organization’s strategic vision. As strategists, not only do we work with our clients to catalyze cultural change, we also enable long-term culture transformation by building an organization’s internal capability to reinforce continuous cultural evolution. Gensler’s proprietary Work Culture Indicator allows us to uncover how culture systemically operates and reveal what reinforces an organization’s cultural aspiration versus what derails it.

2. To make hybrid work, rethink the role of the office, with a focus on people.

In many ways, COVID-19 has been the biggest change management project for the workplace of the future, and while hybrid working continues into 2023, senior leadership across industries are anxious about potential erosion of social capital and culture. For many companies, the biggest fear is that they could be looking back in 2024 and realize that they lost their culture because they didn’t figure how to plan for hybrid effectively.

Back in 2020, my colleague Priscilla Teh and I wrote that if we need to truly make a hybrid future work, we need to rethink the office use case. This means thinking about the office through the lens of time (as well as space) with a hospitality-driven service model using curated amenities as cultural glue. We cannot stress enough that this is not a cost saving opportunity but a prioritization of spend. To make hybrid work, companies should have a people-focused (HR) conversation about supporting staff’s desire for flexibility while ensuring planned ‘collisions’ between business units and people.

3. ESG reporting is creating exciting opportunities to reposition assets.

Recently, environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) has taken on a far more urgent tone as companies feel pressure to address climate change and social progress. Increasingly, businesses recognize the need to show what impact they’re making on the environment and the community. In architecture and design, ESG opportunities refer to how businesses use their buildings and spaces to invest in environmental and social initiatives. Given the impact of embodied carbon reduction in repositioned assets, this is a huge area of exploration and an opportunity for the design industry overall. This will drive exciting new space typologies, more nuanced thinking about material selection, and will help frame design choices for the future. And it may be as small as starting with rethinking how signage can further ESG or carbon goals.

4. “China Plus One” spotlights Southeast Asia to diversify manufacturing.

While China remains to be one of the superpowers in manufacturing and wholesale distribution, the global health crisis and an internal economic shift in the country have created a change in the dynamics of labor and production. The “China Plus One” strategy allows companies to complement their core China operations with investment in another country to lower costs, diversify risks, and access new markets. In particular, industrial and logistics sectors will benefit from the relocation of manufacturing companies.

My colleagues Brion Sargent and Rick Ferrara wrote about distribution center design and last-mile logistics and the fact that successful delivery of these projects demands a knowledgeable team who can rapidly evaluate potential properties prior to site commitment.

5. ‘Revenge travel’ will demand tourism master planning and new airports.

With domestic and international tourism now rebounding in most countries, there are revived opportunities in tourism master planning and airport designs. The Asia Pacific and Middle East regions are expected to account for 58% of the global air passenger demand, which is expected to increase at an average rate of 4.5% per annum, as compared to 2.8% for other regions. In addition, the Asia Pacific region continues to be a geography with significant potential for aviation as 57% of the 300 planned airports globally are coming up in this part of the world, as per a latest assessment by the Airports Council International.

The idea of “choice” is a new variable in business travel that will impact terminal design, as my colleague Ty Osbaugh writes in his blog post about the future of airports and key priorities for the post-pandemic chapter of travel.

6. Food security concerns will catalyze urban food production and systems.

The pandemic and the ongoing war in Ukraine have exposed already fragile food supply chains across the world, and our most vulnerable citizens — children, low-income families, and the elderly — are being impacted the most. Our cities can only be resilient if they have resilient food systems.

We know that by most estimates, by 2050, two in three people in the world will be living in urban areas. This ongoing pattern of movement into cities has led to the loss of arable land, furthering reliance on imported food sources to support growing urban populations. There are many possibilities to explore the coexistence of urban farmification and architecture to enhance food security of our cities. We’re looking at innovative new ways to integrate urban food systems within our built environments, and my colleague JinXi Ng writes about Cultivating a Food Resilient Future by reframing our connection food in the city.

7. Solar powered buildings have potential to be the new normal.

At the end of 2021, the world’s total onshore and offshore wind power capacity exceeded 830 gigawatts (GW). China accounts for more than half of this. In 2021, China installed more offshore wind generation capacity than every other country in the world over the last five years. China’s glowing solar power success shows there is light at the end of the tunnel for a global green energy transition. As solar architecture becomes more pervasive, designers will likely have to push the aesthetics even more — particularly in areas that have challenging design review policies from local planning commissions. This could also spur technological innovations from solar panel manufacturers as well, as they invent new materials that can harvest energy from the sun without compromising materiality.

8. Digital wonderworlds will be more fungible with the physical world.

The metaverse in its entirety implies the ability to bridge countless digital worlds and experiences that allow users to move between them, carrying their virtual identity, social connections, and possessions as they go. At REwork22, I discussed the metaverse hyper-jump and what it means for workplace design and employee experience.

My colleagues Greg Gallimore and Nick Hubbard wrote about the full potential of the metaverse to connect us in real life and stretch our placemaking imagination. While being cognizant of Amara’s law, I believe the onset of open AI will shift the industry in fascinating new ways.

Like my colleagues, I am excited about a bolder, brighter 2023, and we’d love to have a conversation about how our strategy and design services can support you with these key shifts in 2023!

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Nayan Parekh
Nayan is a Principal and global Work Sector Leader who partners with clients on their future of work. She has successfully implemented workplace projects across Asia, the U.K., and continental Europe, helping global organizations implement workplace transformation programs that lead to improved performance. She is based in Singapore. Contact her at .