By: Jeanne Wood, Associate Principal at global architecture, planning and design firm, CallisonRTKL (CRTKL).
The idea of going back all day, five days a week is a bridge too far for many. According to a recent study from Steelcase conducted over 10 countries and engaging over 32,000 people, many employees are still worried. Overarching needs included feelings of being safe and a sense of belonging, to be productive with a desire for holistic comfort and greater control. It found that 73 per cent surveyed felt safety procedures were still very important, 73% were worried about air quality in the office and 72% expressed concerns about facility cleanliness.
With this in mind, it is imperative that companies offer their employees a hybrid model for working, allowing flexibility and choice. While for some industries the office and its typical business function remain pivotal, there are opportunities to re-imagine existing spaces and re-purpose them into a hybrid, flexible concept.
For those who may want to get back on a flexible basis for socialising and collaborating, it’s imperative to have some sort of office environment. The design aspect for this needs to consider the important trifecta of people, place and purpose.
First impressions count
Consumer and staff expectations have changed when it comes to the cleanliness of spaces that support their health and wellbeing. Workplace designers need to adapt and factor in these needs.
Not only do employees need to feel safe from the moment they enter the front door of the workplace, they need to know what is going on behind it too! It’s vital to be transparent with cleaning measures and how frequently cleaning is taking place, is the air quality enhanced and do wayfinding measures promote a feeling of security?
Where once places of work were designed around touch and its ability to influence positive experiences, with higher standards of cleanliness, tactile experiences may be less desirable. We can see this happening in retail with marked routes and one way systems and the hotel sector where touch-free spaces are now popular.
Instead spaces should be designed to invoke other senses such as textural elements on walls to add visual interest or smells of aromatherapy to promote comfort.
Designing the future of our workplace
We need to ask ourselves what role will the office play in post-pandemic workplaces? By understanding how employees want to work in the office post-Covid (through engagement surveys), organisations can then react with strategies based on timing and budget. For example, in an open plan office, moving furniture to create different work zones such as huddle spaces for collaboration and more homely lounge and dining areas for reprieve, will create different work settings to support employee tasks but also retain some of the creature comforts we have become accustomed to.
The physical office will be more about camaraderie and connection and less about accountability and presentism. The space will foster socialisation and a creative environment. However, a special space fuelled by hybrid technology will also hold the key to building on that social aspect for those who are working from home. From purpose built broadcast rooms to allow virtual collaboration to innovation labs with state of the art tools these new types of spaces will allow people to do whatever they want where they live and work.
One of the biggest challenges companies will face is culture. With less time for everyone to be in the office at one time, the culture could get lost. It is important for those offering a hybrid work environment to maintain a sense of office culture that’s adoptive and one that can evolve. Creating supportive and dynamic team environments will need to be a top priority and the way companies teach and pass on institutional knowledge will transform.
Daylight and access to the outdoors, as well as the rise of biophilia and choosing sustainable materials in work settings will be essential features of the post-pandemic workspace. Just like outdoor space has become the most prized residential amenity, so too has open green space become more important in a commercial environment. These allow for good ergonomics and will contribute to health and wellness too, especially since many people have had more opportunities to connect with nature when working remotely, offering a further peaceful setting.
Technology & mobility work together
How we incorporate technology into a business will also be the key to a more productive workforce. The hybrid workplace needs to not only accommodate for remote working but also for a planned and tiered return-to-office that includes social distancing assessments, touchpoint evaluation, a workplace readiness checklist and tactical plans, all which will rely on technology.
Technology will be needed to ensure employees and their visitors are safe and provide an important peace of mind, for example sensors can be used to determine occupancy levels or automated HVAC systems can be installed to work based on occupancy and zoned areas.
The regenerative building is very much now about the user experience and the design needs to incorporate those into the floorplates. Where you once had a fully occupied office building, residential tower or retail plaza for example, all using very individual spaces, why not consider how to re-adapt and look at ways to blend those areas for the flexibility today’s workspaces requires.
No one will argue that this pandemic has impacted our collective mental health and a design of a building and how it is used can very well improve health and wellbeing if done correctly, even in
the workplace by fostering socialisation, which makes for a better creative environment and a more agile and innovative business.
This pandemic highlighted the inefficiency of real estate during a crisis with companies paying premiums for offices spaces with very few or no staff using them. This has led to a wider rethink of space across all types of buildings, which is less about hybrid working but more about hybrid lifestyles. By co-creating the next gen office environment, clients and designers can create innovative, sustainable and flexible workplaces of the future.