Workplace design in a post-covid world - what can we expect?

The new lockdown in the UK will have come as a blow to many people. But with the vaccine currently being rolled out, there is light at the end of the tunnel. The return to the workplace may not be imminent, but its time will come. And when we look ahead to the future of the workplace, one thing for sure is that Covid-19 has accelerated its evolution. 

In a post-covid world,  homeworking is set to continue to be a bigger part of our lives. Meanwhile, the role of the office as a space to connect, collaborate and socialise will become more important than ever.

So, what can we expect from the post-covid workplace?

Safety will be high up on the list of priorities. But building an effective post-covid workplace requires more than just getting the safety aspects right. Organisations need to create spaces that people feel compelled to come back to, and that enable them to do their best work and to feel well and whole.

We explore three different models of what the post-covid workplace could look like.

#1 The full house

While more and more organisations will embrace homeworking, there will be some that require their people to be in the office on more or less a full-time basis, such as those with high concerns around data security.

Workplaces that support everybody in the office at the same time will have a greater focus on:

An ecosystem of spaces - The post-covid workplace will need to support different modes of working, from collaboration to focused work and rejuvenation:

  • Collaborative spaces will need to be safe, comfortable and inspiring.
  • Spaces for focused work will need to allow people to focus as well as they could at home - think booths, pods and larger no-tech zones.
  • The workplace will also need to import some of the home comforts people have become used to - this might mean more relaxed and restorative spaces that can be personalised to people’s preferences.

ecosystem-of-spaces-in-the-post-covid-office

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Hackable spaces - The need for greater control will be heightened now people have experienced the autonomy of working from home and spaces and furniture will need to be more adaptable so workers can personalise the space to how they want to work. Moveable furniture, task chairs with adjustable features and height-adjustable desks will give workers a greater sense of control over their work.

The Steelcase Global Report ‘Engagement and the Global Workplace’ found employees who had more control over their experience at work were more satisfied with their workplace and more engaged.

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Fluid furniture solutions - Office environments with fixed furniture will need to become more fluid to allow organisations to adjust the space quickly and easily - e.g. to support greater or less social distancing - in the event of another wave of the virus or another pandemic.

#2 The hybrid office

“A flexible working model best facilitates balance, reduces stress and improved employee wellbeing more than solely working from either the home or the office.” BCFA

For a mobile workforce who split their time between the office and the home, the workplace will be reimagined as a space that supports people to come together to work on projects and get things done.

The hybrid office will have a greater focus on:

High-performing collaborative spaces - Collaborative spaces need to become higher-performing and more inspiring. Flexibility will be key to support a range of postures, access to power, and the ability to control the level of privacy while feeling relaxed and comfortable.

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Seamless mixed presence collaboration - Video conferencing will need to support collaboration while some of the team are in the office and some are at home. Introducing ‘always on’ video conferencing as well as digital platforms such as virtual whiteboards where teams can co-create will support seamless collaboration.

Remembering the ‘me within we’ - People coming into the office to work with others may also need periods of the day to dedicate to focused work. Screens and meeting rooms will provide privacy and reduce noise levels, allowing people to focus, while ergonomic task chairs and height-adjustable desks will allow them to work comfortably.

#3 The innovation hub

In organisations where the majority of employees continue to work remotely, the office may be reimagined as an engagement or ‘innovation’ hub where people can gather in a club-like environment. It will become a destination that endorses a social and cultural purpose.

The innovation hub will be defined by:

Clear branding - As a hub for people to come together, the workplace needs to nurture a team’s sense of belonging and purpose. Using colours, aesthetics and artwork that are on brand and make the most of the locality can help people feel connected to the space.

Relaxed furniture - Groups of sofas, coffee tables, chairs and cafe tables will fit out most of the office space. These spaces will need to be supported by tools like whiteboards and digital screens to help teams record ideas and reach a shared understanding.

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Experiential spaces - The office will provide focus heavily on providing an experience, with immersive environments that stimulate and energise people, and more natural materials and plant life to inspire creativity.

While no would have wished for the pandemic, it has given us an opportunity to drive real positive change throughout the workplace.

But how you shape and furnish your post-covid workplace will depend on your business, the nature of the work you do and what your people need to be productive.

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