Social distancing, working from home and the economic impact of COVID-19 will all have a direct impact on what the next generation of workplaces will look like. In this article, we outline some of the key issues that have emerged since lockdown began and what we currently think their influence will be on the workspaces of tomorrow. We are also undertaking our own research on how this is impacting people to inform better workplace design in the future.
Social distancing at work
Social distancing is required in the short-term, and we are working with clients across Europe and the Middle East to prepare office buildings for a safe return to work. Issues around movement and circulation could make this challenging as a long-term strategy – especially in existing buildings. However, we may see a change in culture towards increased personal space, and this may influence workspace planning and furniture design.
Working from home
A significant long-term impact from the virus is that more people will work from home for more of the time. Home will become just one extra work-setting and we will have to adapt our living spaces so they are better working environments. Businesses are already preparing home-working packages including equipment, support and advice to facilitate this, and we have all had to adapt to digital collaboration tools. Personal circumstances and demographics will influence people’s attitudes to returning to the workplace, but it seems certain that home working is going to be more popular and credible for many people.
It’s a good time to consider what we might be missing out on when working remotely. We obviously can’t use the specialist equipment required for certain job functions or access shared physical resources. But the biggest losses to both people and businesses are the collaborative, social and informal interactions which are much more difficult remotely, even with the vast array of technology at our disposal. As designers, we certainly find that creativity is stifled when we are not able to collaborate as part of a team in the same space. And creativity isn’t limited to designers – all industries need creative collaboration, for which the workplace will continue to be the best forum.
In recent years many businesses have been creating workplaces that offer an ‘experience’ to fuel productivity, idea creation, wellbeing, staff retention, and support a positive workplace culture. These new workplaces look nothing like a conventional ‘office’ comprised of desks and meeting rooms. They provide a variety of spaces and settings based around different group sizes, teamwork, formal meeting rooms, informal social spaces and gathering spaces. These people-centred spaces support both a business’s operations and its working culture and will drive all workplace design post-COVID-19.
The future workplace
We think the future workplace could be a flexible working community hub, where people who work remotely for much of the time can come together to collaborate. It will contain work settings and facilities that people don’t have at home and spaces that are inspiring and dynamic so that they`ll want to use it. As a focal point of the business, it should also express the ethos, values and characteristics of the organisation and its brand, so that it becomes a place that employees can relate to and feel affinity for.
COVID-19 and the lockdown are having a profound impact on people and our economy, and certainly in the short term it has forced a change in the the way many of us work. But the trends we were seeing before this epidemic – home working and flexible working patterns, collaborative and social workspaces to support wellbeing and increased desk sharing – will continue to drive workplace design. The future `hub` workplace model is particularly effective as it supports flexible/remote working, while also providing the essential facilities and social spaces that people will still want and need at work.
What do you think about working from home?
We are interested to hear your views on the impact of COVID-19 on workplaces to inform better office design in the future. Feel free to contact us.