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How to reconnect organisations and their employees

As a recent article by Gensler put it “I think you’re on mute!” is fast becoming a contender for the headline of 2020.” (Gensler, November 18, 2020). The virus has changed how people engage, businesses operate and countries are governed, it will no doubt have a lasting effect on the corporate world, with a big focus on health and safety in the workplace.

We start a new year, with new goals and hopes that new vaccines can open up business, travel and opportunities and allow us to plan, strategies and grow. But first, we have to reset the “playground” to make sure that we offer solutions for the following needs as revealed by research conducted by Steelcase in 10 countries and engaged over 32,000 people in multiple studies (Steelcase, Work better).

  • People need and expect to feel safe (Air quality, safety protocols and cleanliness being high priority)
  • A desire a deeper sense of belonging (after feeling isolated whilst working from home)
  • People need to feel that they are adding value, so they want a space that enhances their productivity. (Engagement and productivity went down 14% and 12% respectively during the lockdown period).
  • The need for a holistic work environment, where employees can change position and place throughout the day to perform various tasks.
  • People are looking for flexibility both in where they work (office or home), how they work (quiet and focused or dynamic and engaging) and when they work (flexible hours help employees to find a better private/work balance).

How can we design a better work experience for the future workplace?
The workplace is the glue that binds teams together — no matter where they are or how they choose to work. The future workplace will be a central hub that brings people, place, and technology together, to make great things happen. Despite the personal benefits of working remotely that were realised in 2020, studies show that the majority of workers want to return to the office, on a Flexi-hour basis. The top three things people say they want from their office are all about being more productive (Steelcase, Work better):

  1. To collaborate with others effectively. “Connect with colleagues and feel a sense of shared purpose with the organization.”
  2. Easier access to tools and resources
  3. The ability to focus.

With that in mind, we as corporate space and product designers, need to create spaces and design furniture that equally support individual and teamwork. In other words, craft private spaces that offer more privacy, less noise and distraction and facilitate focused work. And on the opposite end of the scale, craft spaces that can keep a team engaged, ideas flowing and facilitate collaboration. These spaces should be flexible, spacious and incorporate technology in a smart and wireless way. We should also carefully consider the spaces that facilitate spontaneous interaction between colleagues, such as the kitchen, work lounge or patio. How can they be more inclusive (to remote workers), can we use technology in a smart way to turn a coffee break into a spontaneous brainstorming session?

There does not need to be an assigned desk for each employee, in fact, the office of the future may only cater for a max of 80% staff to be in the office at any given time. For example, a sales team may need a space that facilitates interaction (including virtual interactions), with a plug and play work-surfaces, that also allows them to host clients. Whilst the account staff member will need more privacy and fewer distractions and a workstation that is designed for comfort and long periods of focused work. A height-adjustable desk, ergonomic chair and screens with monitor arm would be more to their liking. This means that the central hub can assign a larger part of it’s sqm to collaborative spaces.

As Gensler’s A Workplace With Heart put it “The office is no longer a container for people, but a physical- and digital-enabled ecosystem that equips people with the tools and support they need to thrive while amplifying flexibility, choice, work/life balance, diversity, and equity.”

As business cautiously proceeds into 2021, it is important that we confidently support our clients and their employees with thoroughly considered layouts and designs.