How office design has gone back to basics because of COVID-19

By Fordhay

|News|May 2020


Workplace providers like WeWork and Regus have made a success out of creating workplaces with lavish interiors that impress their occupants. Businesses are drawn to the luxury of work environments with amenities that make the working day more enjoyable and productive. Pool tables, yoga rooms, outdoor terraces and on-trend cafes are visually stunning and great for collaborating with your peers, but how will these spaces hold up under the world’s current circumstances?

Most offices across the world have been unoccupied because of COVID-19. Workers have set up stations in their homes to establish a working environment in which they can continue business operations. This has gone on for over two months for many of us, and in that time we’ve definitely learned a lot about what we actually need from a workplace right now. Somewhere that’s hygienic, practical and allows for a safe distance with suitable technology for remote collaboration.

Why do businesses opt for lavish offices?

Having an attractive office space with a breakout room, game room, gym, modern kitchen and open plan work area is not only fun but also has a lot of benefits. One of the main reasons businesses opt for these office spaces is because of staff attraction and retention. Employees are more likely to apply and stay with businesses that value the work they do. We spend more waking hours at work than we do in our own homes, it’s vital that we have a comfortable environment to do so. Working for an employer that provides the space and resources you need to have a productive and positive output is a big selling point for professionals.

Creative workplaces can also improve the health and wellbeing of employees. Ergonomic furniture and gyms encourage employees to maintain an active lifestyle. Chairs and desks that support the posture and ease pain in the neck or back to ensure workers are comfortable throughout the day. Gym and yoga rooms make sure employees have an outlet to release some physical energy and be active. This comes back to the feeling of being valued; employees enjoy being in these office spaces because they know their employer wants them to achieve their goals both personally and professionally.

Creative workplaces also help employees feel inspired and energised. Through colour, graphics, textures, lighting and objects they can gain inspiration during the working day. Working in a room with four white walls, a small cactus in the corner and bright white lights will result in workers feeling demotivated by their surroundings. With different areas and flexibility to shake up the nine-hour day at the office ensures workers can draw on creativity around them.

Why are we moving away from this type of workplace?

Having spent upwards of two months at home in makeshift offices, workers have started to realise what’s actually important to them. First and foremost, a lot of businesses have slashed their budgets to deal with the reduction in work because of COVID-19. These cuts have taken place across a number of departments, resources and wages but also in property leases. Tenants are cancelling their contracts and ending leases early to avoid paying for unoccupied space. This means when it’s time to re-enter the workplace in the future, businesses are likely to downscale. Going for less expensive office spaces will keep outgoing costs minimal whilst they recover from losses experienced during this time. 

Workers’ have also reassessed their priorities. By having to work remotely, we’ve thought about the basics that we actually need to get our jobs done from home. For most, this is a good internet connection, laptop, desktop, mouse, an ergonomic chair and desk to work from. When returning to work it’s likely that these essentials will be prioritised over unnecessary amenities. Practical spaces, resources and furniture will ensure we have comfortable, individual workspaces in the office environment.

Health and safety have taken precedence over lavish interiors too. For workplaces to adapt to the new way of living, there needs to be plenty of space between resources and workstations. Non-essential amenities are likely to be removed in place of screens, partitions and hygiene stations. Desks will be separated to ensure workers can remain two metres away from one another at all times.

What will offices look like when we return to work?

Businesses will need to make a number of amendments to the office to ensure it’s safe for workers to return. Introducing screens and partitions will be one of the main additions to the office floor. Protective screens can be installed at the front, back and sides of desks to separate individuals during desk hours. Screens can also be used to create enclosed areas in the office, perhaps around crowded areas like printers, coffee machines and the kettle. They can also be installed on reception desks where visitors need to speak to someone face-to-face. These protective barriers stop germs from spreading from person to person and can be cleaned thoroughly.

Hand sanitising stations are a great way to keep people’s hands clean in the office when visiting a sink isn’t viable. There are lots of surfaces and handles workers have to make contact with to get to a sink in the kitchen or bathroom. With the frequency of handwashing still being so high, it’s not practical to go to a sink up to ten times a day. Hand sanitising stations can be moved anywhere around the office and placed next to entrances or exits. Workers can clean their hands every time they enter and leave a room, touch an appliance or something another person has handled. While hot soapy water is the most effective way of killing germs, a sanitiser with a high percentage of alcohol is a suitable interim way of cleaning the hands in the office.

Markings, signs and instructions are an effective way to make sure employees follow government guidance. Floor markings ensure people maintain a two metre distance between one another at all times to abide by social distancing guidelines. Signage on walls, windows and doors act as a reminder to employees and visitors to ensure they don’t enter the premises if unwell or isolating. Instructions above sinks and around workstations ensure workers know how to clean thoroughly in order to kill germs and remain protected. Instructional signage and markings act as subtle nudges that ensure everyone in the building keeps themselves and others safe.

The lifestyle transition people across the world have made will make working life a lot different to how it was. The impact businesses have felt since lockdown has forced them to downscale and make cuts to office leases. Being at home without the usual luxuries found in modern offices has made workers reconsider what they need from a space. Pool tables, egg chairs, plush sofas and advanced technology will move over for protective screens, hand sanitising stations and social distancing. Health and safety have taken precedence over lavish interiors that may prevent workers from maintaining hygiene practices and a safe distance while in the office. 

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