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Lucie Mitchell investigates how the office is changing in a post-Covid world.
So much has changed in the workplace since the Covid pandemic. Many employees are now working in a different way and want different things from their office environment. So, if employers want to attract staff back to the workplace in this post-pandemic, hybrid-working world, one of the most important factors they can consider is the design of the office.
According to a 2022 global report by Steelcase, employees are more engaged and productive when they enjoy working from the office, with findings revealing that satisfaction with the office environment leads workers to feel 33% more engaged, 30% more connected to culture and 20% less likely to leave.
So how can employers ensure their office design is enough to entice employees back there?
“The working environment needs to be agile and meet the unique demands of everyone within the team to help encourage them back to the office,” advises Jackie Furey, head of move and change management at office relocation and fit out specialists Crown Workspace.
“Companies now have the option to alter their workspaces, concentrate on the features that employees appreciate most, and make sure they offer a unique setting that home working can’t match. Giving the office more value than what people have at home is vital.”
The Steelcase research found that 65% of UK employees enjoy working at home because they have a dedicated, private workspace. Yet in the office, 59% of UK workers have to sit at desks in open plan areas, even though 53% say they value privacy in the office more now than before the pandemic.
Working from home enables people to create an environment specifically designed for them, so this level of choice must be matched if the office is to compete, says Sameeha Joshi, workplace consultant at office design company Peldon Rose. “More than this, it should be an enticing prospect, offering employees things they can’t get at home. Creating moments of engagement and socialisation is key to encouraging a return to the office. Through collective dining spaces and areas for social coffee breaks, employers can develop more than an office, but an ecosystem, intrinsically designed to support the health and wellbeing of the team.”
It’s important that office design incorporates social areas, agrees Robert Wilkinson, CXO of OfficeMaps. “Offices have now become social places where employees go to bounce ideas off each other, seek inspiration and enjoy the camaraderie and creative energy of being around colleagues. To facilitate this, office design should focus on creating welcoming and comfortable spaces for colleagues to meet.”
When redesigning an office, it’s also worth noting some of the current design features and trends that are emerging post-Covid, and how they differ to traditional workplace design. “Post-Covid, the demand for an employee-centric workplace has soared, and design is adopting a much deeper understanding of human behaviour,” comments Joshi.
“Designers and behavioural experts are shaping the workplace, fuelled by data as well as an eye for detail. Wellbeing is high on people’s agenda and designing an office with this in mind benefits everyone. Small changes can make a real difference to the employee experience. Creating spaces that prioritise mental wellbeing, such as relaxation zones and parents’ or prayer rooms, can allow individuals to step away from a busy working environment and reset.”
Employers need to focus on modernising their workplaces, says Furey. “Offices are not just places to do work anymore; they need to have multiple functions and be spaces that employees want to spend time in. A modern office might, for instance, provide quiet areas, hubs, recreation areas, phone booths for mobile calls, lounge areas and ad hoc touchdown spaces, instead of requiring employees to complete all tasks at one desk.”
Creating an environment that increases an individual’s connection to nature is one other concept worth considering, she adds. “Biophilic design helps create an atmosphere that employees want to be in; it is a design style that draws from the natural world. People who spend time in natural settings are more energised, experience less stress, and have better
attention spans. Examples of this include simple changes such as adding living walls, plants, water fountains and images of nature to the workspace.”
Another crucial factor to consider is ensuring any office redesign is optimised for a hybrid work environment. “With a combination of employees at home and in the office, it’s important that design bridges this gap,” comments Joshi. “The increased prevalence of video calls, resulting from remote working models, gives way to the need for smaller ‘Zoom rooms’. These individual meeting spaces can take the form of private pods for confidential conversations, and more open booths, carefully designed to minimise the transfer of sound. For larger meetings, there’s often a risk that people ‘on screen’ feel left out, but tech choice can help here, with curved screens and agile cameras allowing all meeting participants the chance to be seen and heard – regardless of their location.”
Employees must also be involved in any office redesign, to ensure the physical space meets their needs and requirements.
“Involving your people in any change process is key,” advises Elena Caregnato, principal, design at workplace design firm Unispace. “Listen to their needs, understand their specificities, analyse different expectations, evolve and open up to new ways of working and experiment with technologies that support them adequately.”
Every business will have different requirements for their office design, so it’s important to identify the function of the workplace, says Joshi. “For firms looking to attract people into the working environment, the first step is defining your workplace’s purpose. Why do you want people to come into the office? What do your people want when they spend time in the workplace? Collaboration, socialisation and individual job requirements are all valid reasons to return to the office, but it’s only by defining the role that each space will play that you can truly design a workplace that fits these needs.”