The Impact of Covid in the workspace

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COVID-19 has focused minds on exactly what the office is for and how central a role it should play in corporate strategies and budgets, as well as making the strengths and limitations of home set-ups all too apparent.

What does the future hold for the buildings where so many of us used to spend so much of our waking hours? How do we feel about going back to the office and will we behave differently when we get there? Is it possible to virus-proof the office and improve resilience in this and future pandemics? Both of these have implications for how much space organisations might need or want in future and how much that space costs to fit out and operate.

Why do we need offices? Hasn’t lockdown proved that we can work just as well remotely?

Many companies are reporting that their employees have been equally as productive working from home and enjoy the flexibility working from home offers.

Although there is currently a trend for home working, it is still felt by many organisations that the company’s success will still depend on face-to-face interaction and collaboration. With flexible working, the office could become a vital anchor. The workplace can play a considerable part in how people perceive a business when trying to attract, retain and nurture top talent.  A job interview on a videoconference, doesn’t allow you want to evaluate the atmosphere between employees or see how members of staff of are valued.

The office arguably has an even more important role in providing learning opportunities for younger employees. A lot of developing people is not formal training, it’s all the other interactions. There’s still a lot to be gained from being together as a team.

It is perceived that a high percentage of home working will persist: for the sake of resilience as much as anything else. Virologist are warning that other coronavirus type viruses will come along, and we now know that we need to move quickly to this model when it happens, which means that it has to be in play for at least in part – most of the time. It is questionable whether businesses will want to go back to the way things were before, so what can we expect in the future?

Inevitably there will be a reduction in occupier demand. Organisations had already started to shrink footprints so that they had less than one desk per person, and this trend looked set to remain.

What makes COVID-19 such a strange phenomenon is that its immediate impact will be to push organisations in the opposite direction – they will need more space per employee. Companies have been squeezing more and more people for a long time. For offices to reopen safely and maintain physical distancing, ratios will have to shoot up again, with shifts, staggered start times and continued remote working essential.

It’s too early to say whether we will ever again feel comfortable occupying space in such close proximity to others, which makes the longer-term impact on office requirements very hard to gauge. Perhaps the better question is whether organisations will want the same kind of space that they’ve occupied in the past.

Companies will now be well aware that they could make do with less office space. But they may also have realised that they also need better, more resilient office space. The Coronaviris Pandemic is probably going to accelerate the need for modern, flexible office space with lots of services. You need to fill it with services to help the tenant be more productive, whether that is sustainability or wellness solutions or digital technology.

To justify its existence, the office will have to become a destination with a purpose. If people continue to be the driver for change, as the most important component of an organisation’s profitability, businesses will have to provide safe working environments that increase the feelgood factor and ultimately raise productivity and creativity. There’s much that we can learn from this lockdown period to make the workplace better and our interactions with it more effective. We need to think about furniture and other design solutions to create separation without losing the benefits of collaboration.

Workplaces need to be more inviting, importing some of the home comforts that we’ve become used to. This might mean more relaxed dress codes, but also real planting and soft furnishings, to make spaces more cosy while helping to subtly create distance between people.

We all have ideas about what a typical office looks and feels like: a mixture of private offices and cubicles, with meeting rooms and shared amenities. Few offices have been intentionally designed to support specific organisational priorities. Although offices have changed in some ways during the past decade, they may need to be entirely rethought and transformed for a post–COVID-19 world.

Organisations could create workspaces specifically designed to support the kinds of interactions that cannot happen remotely. If the primary purpose of an organisation’s space is to accommodate specific moments of collaboration rather than individual work, for example, should 80 percent of the office be devoted to collaboration rooms? Should organisations ask all employees who work in cubicles, and rarely have to attend group meetings, to work from homes? If office space is needed only for those who cannot do so, are working spaces close to where employees live a better solution?

In the office of the future, technology will play a central role in enabling employees to return to office buildings and to work safely before a vaccine becomes widely available. Organisations will need to manage which employees can come to the office, when they can enter and take their places, how often the office is cleaned, whether the airflow is sufficient, and if they are remaining sufficiently far apart as they move through the space.

To maintain productivity, collaboration, and learning and to preserve the corporate culture, the boundaries between being physically in the office and out of the office must collapse. It is believed, always-on videoconferencing, seamless in-person and remote collaboration spaces (such as virtual whiteboards), and asynchronous collaboration and working models will quickly shift from futuristic ideas to standard practice.

A transformational approach to reinventing offices will be necessary. Instead of adjusting the existing footprint incrementally, companies should take a fresh look at how much and where space is required and how it fosters desired outcomes for collaboration, productivity, culture, and the work experience.

In any case, the coming transformation will use a portfolio of space solutions: owned space, standard leases, flexible leases, flex space, co-working space, and remote work.

As employers’ experiment with bringing their employees back to offices, the leadership must act now to ensure that when they return, workplaces are both productive and safe.

At Stirling interiors we are used to designing office spaces of all shapes and sizes in the midlands and have seen the effects Covid-19 has had on the workplace. Please get in contact and we can arrange a face to face visit or videocall.