It’s no secret that the pandemic has profoundly impacted the workplace. Just over two years ago, a vast majority of us commuted on trains, buses, and automobiles to reach our business workplaces, where we connected and collaborated with our coworkers. We would make use of local gyms, cafes, and bars. Many of our lives were spent in this weekly routine and city centers.
Suddenly, the norm for decades was upended; The office became the home office, which for some meant working from the kitchen table. Video conferencing was the new meeting, and the digital workplace was as close to our colleagues as we would get. Technology tools enabled flexible work arrangements, and work from anywhere was touted as the way of the future.
But as we begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel, the question on everyone’s mind is: what will business workplace design look like moving forward?
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What is workplace design?
Office design has continually evolved over the decades and will continue to do so. One of the latest trends in office design was the open-office plan. This happened around after the 2008 recession when open-plan offices became even more popular as a way to cut down on operational costs. Additionally, the open-plan made it easier to connect through social interaction, more effective collaboration, sales & marketing, and possibly improved company culture.
The downside, and one which no one saw coming, is that the open-plan office is the worst design in the event of an outbreak. As the virus was spread through particles in one’s own breath, these could pass freely throughout the open office and be easily transmitted. It was not uncommon for one person to unknowingly bring the virus into the open-plan workplace. Soon after that, entire small businesses were infected.
We suspect these open-plan office designs are due for a shake-up. But what exactly will these changes be?
The Employee Experience
With so many people working from home, office design will inevitably have to change to accommodate this new way of remote working. Especially if the executive team wants to get their workforce back into the office. This will be no easy task, with several reports of workers demanding greater flexibility and even willing to quit their jobs to get it. Workers increasingly value flexibility and freedom over income, even if it takes a pay cut. Furthermore, they can now use safety and social distancing as an excuse not to return to the office. The employee experience has overtaken the customers’ experience as the most critical aspect for employers to consider!
How will workplace design change?
There are a few possible scenarios for future workplace design. The first is that workplaces might abandon the open-plan office altogether in favor of smaller, more enclosed spaces. Each person would have their own office or cubicle, with high partitions between each workspace. While this would diminish the spread of any respiratory viruses and other illnesses, it also may make people feel cut off and isolated. And after a few years of in and out of lockdowns, remote work, and isolation, this may not be the best solution!
To comply with social distancing requirements and address employees’ concerns about their personal space, a careful balancing act is needed for successful office design in the new world. One trend already kicking in is de-densification, whereby an organization can decrease its office density. They can achieve this by reducing attendance and introducing satellite offices. And by expanding floor space or rearranging existing layouts to create more room. For obvious reasons, de-densification has become the most crucial aspect of office design in the last few years.
The digital workplace
One way to achieve de-densification is by limiting the number of staff coming onto the office on any given day. This is where the hybrid model comes into play and has a lot going for it. Research data shows that while not all office workers support working from home full-time, many do not want to return to the office five days a week either. By setting up hybrid models, some staff attends on particular days while rotating with those who stay at home. The community remains connected through the organization’s digital workplace platform, where they can still communicate and collaborate on projects.
The hybrid model solves several pain points:
- Offers a balance of work-from-home and in-office
- Maintains employee engagement
- Provides the opportunity for staff social interaction
- Enables the workplace to be redesigned for de-densification
- Pressing problems can still be addressed face-to-face
- It gives employees access to more breathing space
- Positive financial impact by not having to commute daily
The last point touches on the benefits of the work-from-home model, which there are several. Many workers found they were less stressed not having to commute into the office, stuck in traffic, and on crowded trains. More time could also be spent with loved ones. And working remotely could greatly boost productivity, away from the distractions of coworkers. Yet, at the same time, the one thing people missed the most about their organizations’ workplaces was the social interactions. The hybrid model combines the best of both worlds, making for a good business case.
A completely new workplace design
Not all businesses will opt for the hybrid model and de-densification workplace design. Some have gone for an entirely different way of working. Take, Storylines, for example. Not only are they building a luxury residential ship for a global community to live while circumnavigating the world, but they are basing their company headquarters on the ship. That takes the work from anywhere concept to a whole new level.