The pandemic has had a huge effect on all aspects of our lives, arguably none more so than our working environment. Many employees for the time being are working from home, which has pushed technologies such as video conferencing to the forefront. In some high-profile cases, businesses have even shut their offices to embrace the virtual work environment. With all these changes, and in some cases unexpected benefits, what does the future hold for the office environment?
To many people’s surprise, the ‘work from home’ initiative has shown that in some cases businesses can be just as efficient with staff working remotely. And many people have found they are more productive without the stress of long commutes, and noise and distractions of the workplace. At the same time, the change in working conditions has also revealed certain truths. Working remotely is not perfect, as people still need face to face interaction for their mental health and for a business to be successful. Interviews, staff training and new employees, are all areas which benefit from utilizing the workplace. Young members of the team often rely on experienced staff for learning, and remote interviews will not highlight how well a person will fit into the working environment. These findings will be crucial in identifying exactly how the future office should behave and what it should look like.
How much office space is needed?
One of the factors which will be affected by the change in working conditions is the office size. If employees continue to work from home, at least some of the time, it makes sense that less space will be required per person. If each employee spends 2 days each in the office, then potentially 2 people could occupy a single desk space. For some businesses this could potentially see a reduction in office space of 50%. There is also the fact that currently we are not safe or comfortable in the same proximity with others as we used to be, and we don’t know how long this will go on for. Because of this it very hard to gauge what the long-term effects will be in office-space.
What type of office space will businesses want?
It is likely that moving forward, businesses will need to tailor their office space around their workforce, making it more people centred. If staff are more productive working at home, then the office should be an extension of the home environment. To encourage productivity, creativity and inspiration the work environment will need to focus on the ‘feel good’ factor, bringing home comforts to the office. This could include larger workspaces, soft furnishings and relaxation areas, where workers will feel more at home. Perhaps the ‘working office’ will become less important, and office space will be used more to exchange ideas, gain inspiration and meet socially. If this is the case then the environment will need to be comfortable, stylish and stimulating, which could well see the end of the traditional (somewhat characterless) office space.
In terms of office design, this creates a massive opportunity to think outside the box and focus on which design practices will benefit the creativity and ingenuity of your workforce.
Another key factor will be safety, and this will drive many business owners to ensure their office space is ‘pandemic-proof’. Larger work areas, smaller team bubbles, and one-way systems, could become the norm. Temperature checks and hand sanitizers, already in many businesses, may be the way forward in the future to prevent infections from spreading through the workforce.
What about office locations?
Many offices, particularly shared office environments, are based in busy city centres. This can be problematic in terms of busy, often expensive, commutes. If working from home is becoming more acceptable and commuting less desirable, some businesses may relocate to more rural locations. This will allow for safer transport for staff, being able to drive to work, instead of sitting on a busy train. This would potentially bring living costs down for employees, who would not need to relocate to expensive cities to be close to work.
There are a lot of questions about the future of office space, and it will be a while before we see exactly where this is heading. However, the pandemic has highlighted certain factors which we believe will strongly influence the office of the future. These include:
Controlling potential infection is currently top of the list for employers. And this is unlikely to change even after the current pandemic. After learning how quickly it can spread and how devastating it is to people and businesses, this is unlikely to become an afterthought in the future.
We have all become accustomed to the importance of our personal space throughout 2020. And for the health and wellbeing of the workforce this is likely to remain a key factor going forward. Many people are currently worried about returning to the office for health reasons, and this is often due to cramped conditions and sharing desks. To encourage people to feel safe at work, space will have to be taken into account as a key factor.
- Quality of the Workspace
After working at home for a long period, the banality of the office environment is increasingly exposed. At home we have clearly defined areas for different purposes. Your bedroom may be the office, but if you need a break you can go to the kitchen or even the living room to watch some TV. There are areas of purpose, e.g. kitchen, bathroom and areas of relaxation, e.g. living room, garden, etc. In the future workplaces will need to have purpose-defined areas to enable employees to be productive or to relax when they need to. The workplace should be an extension of home, as well as being a place of inspiration and productivity.
- A focus on ‘Social’
The main negative for working at home is the lack of social interaction. This is the biggest factor in people wanting to return to the office environment, and should be a key priority in the creation of the future workplace. Social areas will play an important part in encouraging ideas and inspiration between team members. This may be a café or food and drink area, or even a games and TV room, where people can relax and gather their thoughts. A well thought out social strategy could even encourage employees to spend time within the business instead of at home. Think outside the box – how about a cinema room or a bar where staff can meet after work. A relaxed setting is often the place and time when people come up with their most creative and inspired ideas.
Our take on the future of office-space
In reality it is likely that office space will remain a key requirement for most businesses. We may well see a more flexible approach to working, enabling employees to spend some of their time working from home. But, the nucleus of most businesses will remain where employees can engage with one another, and gain inspiration and ideas. It is very difficult to replicate this in a virtual environment.
It is likely that businesses will start to take a different approach to their office environment, providing more comfort and social space for employees. Infection control will be at the forefront for the foreseeable future, and cramped desks with little space, do not bode well for this. At E and M Services we can help with the reimagining of your office space to cater for safer spaces and infection control. We can provide:
- Complete and partial refurbishments to allow COVID-Secure working
- Layout guidance for offices
- Furniture designed to encourage social distancing
- Hygienic, easy clean flooring solutions
- electrical works to allow modifications to existing offices
- installation of computer benching, desks and work areas to allow safe
- communal working
- flooring designs to provide clear and safe walkways, working zones and to
- define ‘bubbles’
- hygienic paint products
- easy clean window blinds
We are also able to provide ongoing services during the lockdown to help get your office space COVID-Secure. We are currently carrying out work for schools, hospitals and the police during this difficult time, helping to ensure that these vital services have safe and suitable workplaces. We are replacing unsafe floors, carrying out maintenance and supporting our vital local services. We are available for work to the public and private sectors and work in COVID-Secure ways with detailed risk and method statements.
We don’t know for sure what the future holds for office-space, but business owners of today hold the key to what the future will bring. Want to COVID-Proof your workplace, or start getting creative with your office environment? Speak to our team to get some ideas and to find out how we can help your business take that first step.