The Covid-19 Pandemic has upended daily life as we know it and reshaped the way we shop, work and travel. Whilst most sectors will bounce back in one way or another, might it spell the end of the office as we know it? We think it will. Whilst it certainly won’t be the end of the office as companies like Twitter would have us believe, there is a huge opportunity to re-think what we require and design and plan our offices differently. To discuss this, Another Country invited architects Mowat & Co and wellbeing consultants Ekkist to reflect on the challenges facing us and propose solutions for designing the post pandemic office.
Healthy and happy
One key dynamic will be the push towards ‘healthier’ workplaces; spaces that are designed to not only create safe places that enhance health and wellbeing, but people’s productivity and enjoyment of work too. We know that natural materials calm us, that better sound insulation improves concentration levels, and that access to plants and nature has a restorative effect. According to Zendesk Chief Creative Office Toke Nygaard, these were key considerations behind tech company’s recent office redevelopment. Key areas of focus will include improving air quality through better ventilation and/or, where possible, allowing windows to open; bringing nature into the office and maximising the amount of natural light; designing intelligent lighting and sound-absorbing solutions alongside increased automation to reduce contact with surfaces, and enhancing physical wellbeing (by encouraging people to move around the office more).
Flexible and creative
A second area of change will be the way we work. As the Chief Executive of Vodafone recently wrote, the future of the office will be defined by flexibility, productivity and creativity rather than location. More of us will work from home at least part of the time and this will have a knock-on effect on the size of offices, the nature of our transport network and the segment of retail that depends on weekday traffic. It will require more attention being paid to office zoning (i.e. mixing areas for full-time and part time employees), the nature of the commute and to the transition from home to the office (and how to personalise one’s daily work space). Employers ought to adopt employee-centric policies that allow flexible working hours based less on screen time and more on each person’s productivity, and to think about who pays for their employee’s work-from-home set up, who dictates corporate etiquette, dress code and branding for those working from home.
Fit for purpose
Overall, we think the workplace will become somewhere that is part of our working environment but not its entirety. It will support us when we need to meet, collaborate or undertake creative or challenging tasks that benefit from a group dynamic, but it will (and should) also remain an important part of our social lives, provide younger professionals with on the job training and mentoring support, and allow us to escape our domestic world. As Lucy Kellaway wrote in the Financial Times: “The office helps keep us sane. First, it imposes routine, without which most of us fall to pieces. The uptight schedule of most offices forces even the least organised person to establish habits. Even better, it creates a barrier between work and home. On arrival we escape the chaos (or monotony) of our hearths; better still, we escape from our usual selves”.
To illustrate these ideas in more detail, we commissioned artist Ruby Fresson to create a series of vignettes incorporating Another Country’s range of furniture (designed for use in both the home and the office), the design concepts of Mowat & Co, and the wellbeing principles championed by Ekkist.
We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to rethink and renew, to design healthier, more sustainable and more productive workplaces for the benefit of us all. Let’s get to work!
Natural materials such as copper and wood are very effective at killing off germs and preventing bacteria from breeding. Copper and its alloys, such as brass and bronze, have an inherent ability to kill a wide range of harmful microbes rapidly with a high degree of efficiency. The lignin that binds the fibres together in wood has an antibacterial effect – making it the perfect material for chairs and work desks.
Touchless technology is fast becoming commonplace in our offices. From calling the lift to ordering a coffee, from booking a meeting room to checking-in a guest – a small gesture or voice control will now suffice.
Workplaces have become more open and less hierarchical, meaning they are now noisier places to be. Sound absorbing materials such as soft upholstery and felt panelling can help in achieving the right levels of speech privacy and comfort. A simple A, B, C, D & E approach to unwanted sound waves can help. A – Absorb. B – Block. C – Cover. D – Distance. E – Etiquette.
Helping employees to switch from one type of working to another is key to a healthy, activity-based workplace. A range of office areas, such as cafe and lounge space, focus zones and collaborative hubs, is fundamental to the performance of the individual and the workplace.
Well-balanced and considerate lighting design in offices can be a major factor in the health and happiness of our colleagues. There is evidence that the lack of natural sunlight can result in conditions such as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Natural light shouldn’t be something employees have to go hunting for in their lunch break, but a crucial ingredient to a healthy workplace.
Living plants help to improve indoor air quality by replacing carbon dioxide with oxygen, which is vital for healthy brain function. They also transpire through their leaves, which makes the air more humid and combats the dry air produced by central heating in the winter and air conditioning in the summer. Additionally, plants absorb excess VOCs that are emitted by electronics, finishes (paints and carpets) and furniture.
It is important for your workplace – both at home and in the office – to be set up to accommodate your needs. Each location should be equally resourced with the things you need, ensuring that neither is compromised.
Hot desking can make your work space feel less personal. Work-issued carrycases and desk pouches can be used to store personal items, such as stationary and trinkets, which can be unpacked at the beginning of the day and packed up before you head home.
There are many benefits of an active commute – from improving fitness to relieving stress at the end of a busy day. Workplaces will need to provide suitable storage for bikes, personal equipment and a change of clothes – along with showers and changing facilities.
It is important to create zones which support different types of working – a team space for collaboration, a quiet space for focus, a private space to process confidential information and a break-out space to recharge.
As the workplace becomes more flexible, so must the furniture. A well-designed unit can perform multiple functions: provide storage space for books and equipment, a meeting table to gather around for a quick discussion and a work desk to pull up a stool to.
A company is only as good as its employees. If staff feel valued and provided for in the workplace, they are more likely to succeed at their tasks and ultimately increase the productivity of the business.