As many offices are starting to get back to “normal” working practices, are we ever going to see a mass movement back to the office, or will we see a shift to working from home indefinitely? Moreover, with the absence of a vaccine how will companies safely return their staff to the workplace in the short term? The UK Government has provided guidance on how to work within the office safely however we will be looking at the longer-term office and some predictions on what the future office space will look like.
Short Term – Social Distancing
No doubt if you are reading this working in facilities or operations you would have been un in dated by companies trying to sell covid 19 cough screens, the market has been flooded with PPE equipment to make the office safe and also more importantly follow government guidelines. In the short term we are not predicting any drastic changes from this, with companies making the office safe for their employees. There have been a few approaches to the design of the office which we are seeing. Firstly, for existing clients they are wanting to keep most of the layouts the same with the inclusion of cough screens, hand sanitisers, seating plans and thermometers at the entrances. This is a great way to make the office space without the disruption of moving desk positions or removing furniture to create a social distance. Secondly, we are seeing a day 1 and day 2 setup this mostly applies to companies who are transitioning into a new office and have the space to separate desks for when they first move in. obviously this does not suit every situation especially in London where real estate comes at a premium and there is simply just not the space to accommodate.
New Office Space
Looking forward to the medium term we are largely unsure if the office space will incur a V shaped recovery or has the office landscape already been sculpted into a new digital age? One thing that is for certain is human nature tells us we are sociable animals and the lack of social interaction is detrimental to our health. Therefore, we could conclude that there is a good probability we will need some sort of office space or “Mother ship” where employees and clients can meet, collaborate, and work. If this is the case we will see a larger proportion of flexible spaces like we work or Spaces who can offer flexible office space for smaller ad hoc teams, a social area where people can meet and expansion for companies who experience rapid growth. Moreover, with large occupancy buildings will we see them separating and sub-letting the space and create highly collaborative spaces in their existing open plan spaces?
When looking at office design we always have to consider the behavioural aspects of the people who will be occupying the environment, as you can imagine each company has different needs from their employees which have to be taken into account when designing an office. For example, we tend to find accountants/financial people need a quieter environment or places for them to concentrate, therefore putting them into a noisy sales floor does not work. Regarding the post Covid world we can see another element of introverts and extroverted people needed to be considered. The extroverts need social interaction and the thought of working from home for the long term needs to be addressed. In this instance the “mother ship” approach would work well as it would allow social interaction and meetings to take place. In regards to the more introverted personality they could feel more comfortable working from home so making the home a safe and ergonomic place would be the best route for the people that want to adopt this style of working. Working from home also throws up a few problems that are yet to be ironed out around agile guilt (people working later showing to their employer they are still working), trust and banter/office fun. We have yet to see any furniture products or technology really solve these difficult problems so for the short term we will be making offices safe for staff to return.
With health and safety becoming really important within the workplace, there has been a huge amount of research and development into ergonomics of office furniture. Creating products that support the human body throughout the day, prevents any long-term damage from sitting at a desk for longer periods of time. Companies invest a lot of money and time into selecting the right furniture for their staff, often involving focus groups or all the staff to pick task chairs, desk systems or ergonomics aids. Unfortunately, with the mass exodus of the office and home working becoming the reality the residential furniture market just doesn’t fulfil our ergonomic needs. (and why should it?) Companies still have a responsibility to their staff to supply them with the correct ergonomic equipment, a good workstation setup should include:
- Ergonomic chair- with a broad range of functions (see our top 2020 task chair blog for some ideas- https://www.cirquefurniture.com/post/best-office-chairs-2020)
- Monitor arm – Again with broad range of motion.
- Desk – Sit stand preferable but not essential.
- Foot stand – if needed.
- Wireless mouse/Keyboard- not essential but good for quick conversion to dining table to office desk.
- Lighting- Good lighting
We have put together a work from home kit which provides their staff with everything the user might need in terms of ergonomic furniture.
In summary, we see in the short term a stagnation of the current office setup whilst companies “wait out the storm”, there will be a continuation of getting the office ready for staff to come back to the office following guidance set out by government (https://bit.ly/31TH9OE) with cough screens, air conditioning upgrades, hand sanitisers and UV Lights. In the midterm we could potentially see companies re-evaluating their space, which could lead to subletting larger floor plates to smaller companies or shifting to a more flexible serviced office, especially the companies who can work totally digitally from home. Moreover, in the long term we could see a total shift in high density open plan desking with what we think as a desk. Office design would all be about collaboration and meeting spaces with only a few hot desks for individual workers, we would see occupancy levels of 10-15% which would mean large corporate offices we see today would be a thing of the past.