What we learn from the lockdown could help design the workplaces of the future.
As most of the world is adjusting to life under lockdown, the majority of businesses have had to embrace running their operations remotely with staff working from home where possible.
Companies more versed in remote working were first off the mark to shift operations with the larger technology companies such as Google, Apple and Facebook leading the way and advising their staff to work from home in late February or early March. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, many companies wouldn’t have even considered working remotely as a possibility but as a consequence of a forced lockdown, we have seen unlikely industries such as law firms, insurance agencies and financial institutions make the move. Even Lloyd’s of London recently closed down its underwriting room for the first time in a 330-year history.
As designers, we are required to evaluate the function of the workplace and understand how a company operates in order to design a successful space. I’d like to optimistically look at what we could learn from the lockdown and what we could look to improve in a post coronavirus world for the better, coming out stronger:
On the other side of the lockdown, many businesses will be re-assessing their overheads and, in particular, their office costs. Lots will be thinking about either reducing the amount of area needed or assessing how to maximise the efficiency of their existing space.
Flexible spaces are typically required in order to accommodate agile working for employees. Agile working is not a new concept, but the lockdown has shown how relatively few regular adopters were prepared for staff to work remotely. Perhaps the common misconception was that it was only suited to the ‘tech’ industries and not the traditional disciplines.
The recent rise of ‘co-working’ has seen a shift towards embracing the concept of introducing flexible space, but a large number of co-working spaces are actually only a rebranded version of a previous model, the serviced office, not fully embracing flexible space. We imagine co-working spaces as places littered with entrepreneurs typing away on their Macs whilst sipping lattes on a sofa, but this isn’t actually the case. ‘Co-working’ or flexible space typically only accounts for approximately 5% of the area within a coworking scheme it is usually recognised as a loss leader to create a trendy atmosphere and attract companies to the traditionally let units which make up the majority.
Recognition for the need for flexible space in all workplaces could be one of the most important consequences of this lockdown. Businesses should either implement more remote working or aim to maximise the efficiency of let office space; flexible spaces are key in supporting that.
One of our current projects, the refurbishment of an entire office building on Henrietta Street in Covent Garden, makes use of communal and entrance spaces. We proposed to create the former reception lobby into a flexible space capable of maximising the efficiency for the traditionally let office space floors above. This has a variety of benefits, from creating an atmosphere as you enter the building to promoting informal meetings and enhancing serendipitous collaborations between companies, teams and colleagues.
Health and Wellness in the workspace extend beyond the provision of handwashing facilities or a bombardment of alcohol gel dispensers. It is becoming ever more increasingly important to consider how the overall design of the working environment can contribute to the wellness and mental health of employees.
Making design changes can assist in nurturing improvements such as creating healthy habits, increasing productivity by positive mood reinforcement and facilitating the reduction of stress.
Multi-use/Collaborative spaces encourage colleagues and team members to come together, discuss problems and communicate solutions. Creating spaces for open conversation can assist in minimising the build-up of stress or anxiety. Open-plan offices are commonplace, but a lot of people find this format distracting. Collaborative space should be able to accommodate what open plan does not. As businesses re-evaluate their spacial requirements post-lockdown, implementing more collaborative spaces could be a good way of using any unused space.
We recently completed a fit-out for a large technology company. Whilst they fully embraced flexible working practices, their concern was that the physical office space was inhibiting staff collaboration and interaction. Through the use of collaboration spaces, delineated zones for teams and even an ambient sound strategy, we assisted in designing a space for teams to engage and employees to utilise the office in order to suit their personal working practices.
Humans are social creatures and the recent social distancing restrictions have certainly reminded us of that. Video conferencing and other communication technology have been vital in overcoming the restrictions, but they are no replacement for the interactions we’re used to in the physical office environment and the events that we usually attend.
With the re-evaluation of spaces, one possibility would be to consider the inclusion of an event space to host social events, talks, presentations and exhibitions. The inclusion of event spaces can assist in the workspace becoming a destination for both employees and a wider network of the business.
One of our office refurbishment projects proposes the introduction of a mezzanine structure with an event space below and a ground floor cafe in the main atrium space. As a part of a wider technology campus, this regeneration encourages the building to become a focal point for engagement between companies to host and attend events: a hub for the campus.
The current lockdown will, of course, have profound impacts on the way workspace is considered by businesses. We would like to look optimistically towards the changes and hope that we can learn from this period of change in order for the workplace of the future to be better for it.
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