There has been a plethora of articles around the future of the office and how workplaces can adapt post-Covid-19 to create safe spaces where social distancing can be facilitated.
Indeed, we created a document focusing on how workplaces could plan for post-Covid-19 but this piece will focus more on the perception of what an office is, its function in the modern world and also discuss whether the current pandemic has made us reevaluate how we work and crucially where we work.
Many of us have been forced to work from home over the past months, adapting spare rooms into home offices and juggling work and home life, with the line becoming increasingly blurred – we now work and live in the same space, and the previous demarcation between work and personal lives has eroded. Many have developed new routines and hobbies as we have more time minus our daily commute and a greater onus has been placed on our own personal and mental wellbeing. Now that semblances of normality are resuming, and offices are reopening, many are rethinking their attitudes towards the necessity of returning to that commute and forsaking elements of their ‘new normal’.
Our colleagues have debated over Zoom whether this will herald a new evolution of the office, and change attitudes towards flexible and home working. Indeed, is it time for us to re-evaluate the primary function of the workplace – a place for people to work? And consequently, what would a new, evolved workplace look like in a post-Covid world?
While there has undeniably been a large shift towards flexible work practices in the past decade to a point whereby they are firmly embedded in many progressive organisations that view output and results as critical over presenteeism, the majority of office-based workers still work from the office 3+ days per week. There are several factors that influence this in our view including:
- A desire for social interaction with colleagues
- A lack of tools (tech, furniture, space etc.…) to work effectively from home
- A mix of habit, routine and perceived expectation to be seen at work
- Face to face collaboration and client meetings
All the above are important and give rise to questions around an organisations responsibility to fit out home working spaces for key staff, and the ability of teams to collaborate virtually. As office designers, we all strongly believe that there is a place for the office and that it is a fundamentally essential tool in itself, but our debate centers around whether the office in its current form supports flexible work practices and whether we need to look at creating hubs where colleagues (and clients) can interact when required and not just routinely assemble. However, we need to define what these hubs would equate to in terms of office design, layout and employee experience. Essentially what will they look like and how will staff use any such hub?
Working with our own K2 Space clients, we are witnessing a trend towards creating spaces which are less traditionally defined and linear i.e. an open plan desk space for working, meeting rooms for collaboration and breakout spaces for coffee and lunch. The layout and design of the space are increasingly being dictated by employee needs and increasingly, we are being asked to design and build workplaces that include dedicated spaces for concentrated work, be they 1-person pods or quiet library inspired spaces, for collaboration outside of a meeting room in open collaboration spaces which facilitate more movement and general interactivity, and for relaxation in enhanced breakout spaces and even spaces to unwind, have a nap, perform yoga, have a workout etc.…
The current pandemic was forced upon us but one of its intriguing byproducts has been an increased focus on how effective we as employees can be outside of the normal work environment, but also the future of the office space and how we can reshape it into something far more effective and accommodating of modern employee needs. The hub concept is one we believe will gather momentum and is not that dissimilar to the concept of co-working spaces, but in this case, they would be designed to suit a singular brand, not multiple SMEs. We also believe that given the option while also being equipped to properly work from home, many employees will choose to work 3-4 days per week at home but routinely access the office hub 1-2 days per week, for any combination of the reasons outlined earlier. It’s the flexibility that is fundamental, which is craved, and which has been propelled to the fore by Covid-19.
There are further ramifications as an office hub which does not need to accommodate all or even most staff will mean that larger spaces are not required, and this will consequently impact the demand for space and no doubt companies will start to weigh up the cost savings of having a smaller space that works for their staff and allows them to be as productive and efficient as before.
We live in interesting times and how the workplace evolves over the coming years will be watched keenly by employers, employees and office designers like K2, but one thing is for sure, change is coming, and coming fast. Watch this space…