There have been numerous articles surrounding the workplace and the impact that Covid-19 will have on the traditional office environment in the longer term. Many have claimed that the office is dead (where have we heard this before?) and that home working is the future but, in this article, we’ll discuss our views and how we feel the office could and perhaps should evolve longer term.
The office is dead?
How we work has been constantly evolving over recent years as technology enables us to be productive from anywhere with a good Wi-Fi connection, but does that render the traditional office obsolete?
We don’t think so but it’s important to add that we do feel aspects of more traditional office design may evolve and change at a faster pace because of Covid-19. We’ve discussed that in another article ‘Has Covid-19 accelerated the Evolution of the Workplace?’, but here, let’s take a look at some of the primary functions of the workplace or office, and how as office design professionals, we can create spaces to reflect our new reality.
- A physical space to work productively as an individual or part of a team
- A physical space to interact and socialize with colleagues
- A physical space where new employees or graduates can be mentored and learn from experienced staff
The Productive Office
Now, we are not for a moment suggesting that people cannot be productive while working from home, but our view is that facilitating a blended home + office working flexibility would enhance productivity. Essentially, this offers the best of both worlds and allowing staff the option to work from home when best suited i.e. for concentrated work at an individual level, and to work from the office where collaboration with team members is required – we’re firm believers that people are at their most creative when together, zoom calls can be great but nothing quite matches ‘being there together.
Creating an office space where staff can effectively touchdown for brainstorm sessions, workshops, team meetings or training and then providing space where they can work effectively at a workspace before, after or in-between sessions is not a new challenge. However, we feel that how this is achieved has now altered and that by adopting a hub like mentality to the workplace, we can design spaces that are heavily weighted towards collaboration and meeting spaces of all sizes (we’re thinking long term here and hopefully without the need for extreme social distancing).
Our collective thinking centres on a workplace that offers staff (and visitors) a variety of different, bookable open + closed spaces. A workplace with ergonomic workspaces scattered throughout in neighbourhood themed team clusters and also individual spaces for concentration (we personally love the idea of work libraries where library noise rules apply).
The Social Office
One side of the debate around the future of the workplace which doesn’t appear to get as much press as perhaps it should do is the social interaction opportunities and benefits that they offer. While discussing this, we found it hard to properly or adequately outline the critical importance of the social office and how it can build bonds, friendships, trust and goodwill amongst colleagues. Sam Sahni, a prominent workplace leader frequently refers to ‘the power of place’ in presentations and posts like this one on ‘Work and workplace lessons from the ugly pandemic’, and the role that the physical workplace has in creating and generating social connectivity and how virtual interactions can never replace actuality.
He also speaks of making time for non-work connectivity and how working 100% remotely has the potential to eradicate downtime or in-between times at work where you unwind, grab a coffee, speak with colleagues, and generally engage in social interaction whilst at work. At home, the lines are blurring, and that downtime is substituted for household chores. The separation line between work and home is less of an issue when in the office as the choice isn’t there to make and yet, the world still turns.
As office designers, breakout spaces have long become essential, showcase pieces of progressive workplaces as employers strive to create aesthetically pleasing spaces with barista coffee, healthy snacks, comfortable + colourful seating options and lots of visual stimuli. These spaces have also doubled up as areas where casual, informal catch-ups can take place between colleagues and here is where we see a change needed – these spaces may need to become complete work-free zones, spaces to unwind, spaces to socialize and spaces not designed primarily for productivity (although social interaction can improve wellbeing and subsequently, productivity). Now we’re not saying this would be a hard and fast rule and that work conversations would be banned, but encouragement to use the space for relaxation and social purposes would have many benefits.
The Learning Office
Our third function of the office revolves around people joining a new company, young people starting their first job and how the office experience is pivotal in identifying, nurturing and harnessing that new talent. Employees need induction and the physical workspace is an opportunity whereby they meet and form relationships with new colleagues from a myriad of teams, better understand systems and processes and what we find most important, where they learn and grow as individuals.
This is central of our theme of the office as a hub, a location of choice rather than a habit that attracts staff when they need a space to perform optimally and which provides the spaces and tools for them to do so. It’s also important to point out that a workplace embodies the culture and values of an organisation and that without experiencing that, it will be difficult to truly prosper while it also presents another interesting topic around how organisations can create and maintain a culture in a new, blended covid work-scape.
What does this all mean for the office in the long term?
Here’s what we hope will happen – layouts and permutations will alter to create diverse, dedicated spaces for different work types & styles, organisations will look for less space but use it more wisely while simultaneously advocating the benefits of working from home for a proportion of the working week. They’ll negotiate shorter, more flexible leases, optimize their technology stack and drive digitalization. All the while focusing efforts on employee wellbeing and creating evolved spaces where people, their staff want to work – the goal for us is to create offices where people want to work, and we see no reason why working from home and from the office cannot happen in tandem.
Not quite ‘The office is dead’ but rather, the office is changing and fast but will always have a role in so far as we can envisage.
If you need any office design expertise to help you and your organisation create a workplace where staff truly want to work get in touch today at [email protected]