This has been, and will continue to be, a challenging time, but we’re nothing if not adaptable as a species, so it’s important to see the positive opportunities for change too, alongside those imposed by feelings of anxiety and legal requirements. What’s important right now is calm consideration about what will change – and what won’t – in the short, medium and longer-term.
One thing for sure that won’t change is our need for human interaction. We may well have got through this period by interacting via Zoom or Microsoft Teams – and there are certainly those who report increased efficiency because everyone is present and focused – but the subtle advantages face-to-face meetings generate cannot be underestimated and remain critical for our mental wellbeing. People need to be together to innovate and collaborate. Culture arises out of this and represents the competitive advantage businesses need. Younger team members also need to be around mentors to learn by observation, whilst integrating a new staff member is almost unthinkable via a screen.
In some senses, the changes office managers and business owners need to implement are nothing new – agile workplaces and the ways employees balance home working and office-based tasks have been ‘the new normal’ for quite some time now. What will need to change is increased listening to individuals’ requirements. This is a ground-up and not top-down moment. Employers will need to understand what each person needs to balance office hours and working from home. It’s about empowerment – and reaching solutions individuals and business owners are happy with.
Of course, there’ll be short-term changes everywhere, including a raft of social-distancing solutions, from one-way systems in the office and every other desk occupied to rotations of office occupation, as we work towards a more established, medium-term ‘social distancing design guide’. Occupation densities will change too, but this doesn’t necessarily mean businesses will need more space. CEOs, business owners, landlords and Facilities Managers will see obvious opportunities to adapt to and survive this period and its aftermath, reconfiguring spaces to allow for amenity provision, whilst retaining acceptable levels of interaction and making use of touchless tech for example. Developing small suite schemes for businesses with strong cultural brands will help existing tenants occupy less space and ensure co-working environments remain appealing, getting over the obvious stigma of sharing space with people you don’t know.
In the longer term, the workspace will become a hang-out for people to come together for the more collaborative parts of their work, before dispersing either into smaller pockets of space that respect distancing or else returning to their homes to carry out specific tasks. The office will certainly survive, but its function and role will change and, with change, new innovations and inspiration will come too.
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SpaceInvader are specialists in workplace strategy, Cat A and Cat B schemes nationwide and are one of the North of England’s premier agencies, with studios in Manchester and Leeds. www.spaceinvaderdesign.co.uk
John Williams is the founding director of SpaceInvader and has worked as a commercial interior designer for more than 20 years in both the USA and the UK and across multiple sectors. He’s particularly passionate about collaboration with clients and challenging briefs to ensure the ultimate design quality and user experience.
Work in Mind is a content platform designed to give a voice to thinkers, businesses, journalists and regulatory bodies in the field of healthy buildings.