What does the post COVID workplace look like?

The journey for every business is different, but leaders are asking the same thing: “When my people come back, what will they need and expect?” In other words, what is the future of the workplace and how does my organisation get there?

As a Principle Dealer for Steelcase (a global leader in office furniture, interior architecture and space solutions), we’ve been analysing their recent research to understand what’s next and sharing what we’ve learnt with our customers.

One major outcome of this research is that it’s not about going back to the office, it’s about going back to something better. Whether you have already gone back or are still planning to, it’s time to send people back to a better work experience.

What does “Better” mean?

It means learning from what science can teach us, and from what research is showing us that people now expect as well as need, and that is a workplace that is both safe and compelling.

SAFE:

We understand that Safety is essential  – the world is now pandemic aware, and the need to be safe will not go away when covid restrictions ease. ​​We know there is no single safety solution.  Instead, it’s systemic approach that needs to be taken. So, we are learning new information about how to prevent, mitigate and detect pathogens in the office. By layering together solutions, we can create a safer workplace.

Prevent – Investigating new technologies that purify and clean the air in the spaces where people work​​

Mitigate – Lab testing how pathogens move through the air.
Testing how different furniture or settings can reduce transmission​​. Testing how pathogens behave when they land on a surface ​​and developing a framework to address higher and lower risk surfaces 

COMPELLING:

The truth is work from home experiences are widely different. And we can learn from people’s experiences to understand what their expectations will be when they return to the workplace and how to improve the workplace and work going forward. 

Major events have a way of allowing human beings to put the status quo behind them and move forward in new ways. A well planned return to offices can use this moment to reinvent their role and create a better experience.

As a result of all of ongoing research, we are seeing what it will take to create a better work experience moving forward in terms of the role that the workplace will need to play.

There are 3 key elements –

  1. Start with people, and 5 key things they will need and expect

  2. Understand the macro shifts that need to occur in how we think about buildings and the workplaces we create

  3. New Design Principles that will change the way we design spaces to provide the best and most resilient spaces

1. Five things people need for a better work experience

Safety – to be safe and feel safe

Air quality, adhering to safety protocols, facility cleanliness, physical distancing/boundaries, density and visitor protocols.

Belonging – inclusion, trust and shared purpose

The presence and accessibility of leaders. Spaces that foster socialisation – building belonging. Stimulating and inspiring areas – places that promote ideation and creative problem solving. When you have a strong sense of community, it is the best predictor of important business outcomes – higher productivity, engagement, innovation and retention.

Productivity – to focus and collaborate

People want to feel productive – like they are making a contribution and making progress, but research shows that while some saw a panic-productivity bump early in the pandemic, that’s been hard to sustain over time as people have struggled at home. People need to be able to do individual work, and develop their own point of view, before returning to the team to collaborate, but people don’t tend to collaborate for 8 hours a day. It’s an ebb and flow.
The need for individual privacy was bubbling up pre-pandemic and for many has crystallised during the mandatory WFH period.

Comfort – physical, cognitive and emotional

Comfort means a range of postures, settings and the ability to move but people also want a distraction-free environment (cognitive support) and they want their office to help them reconnect to their organisation and a shared purpose (emotional support).

Control – more control over where and how they work

Many have gotten used to organising their day in a way that works for their life and work. While the majority of people still want to spend most of their time in the office, people do expect to have choice about when they work from home.

Many of these elements are things that were emerging before the pandemic hit – only safety, in terms of the need to mitigate disease is new. But what we are seeing is that the pandemic has greatly accelerated the awareness and importance of each of these elements.

2. Four macro shifts that need to occur to re-shape a better work experience

  • Safety
    Before: There were always health & safety standards
    After: There needs to be smart buildings and a systemic approach to safety to mitigate the spread of disease 
  • Productivity
    Before: Focus primarily on Efficiency & single purpose spaces
    After: Balancing individual and team needs, using multi-modal spaces (spaces used for multiple modes of work – eg. Café also as a collaboration or focus space)
  • Inspiration
    Before: Emphasis on attracting talent through aesthetics
    After: Design to work harder to foster community through belonging, resilience, environmental and social impact​ as well as delivering on aesthetics
  • Flexibility
    Before: Fixed architecture & buildings designed for permanence
    After: Buildings designed to adapt​ and support flexible ways of working

These simply touch on the broader terms, but please get in touch if you’re interested in finding out more about these shifts, including air quality, virtual collaboration, geometry and multi-use spaces.

3. Four new design principles to consider for a better work experience

Me + We –

The workplace needs to equally support the need for teamwork (“we”) and the needs of individual (“me”) work, recognizing both modes of work are critical to the creative process. People need to be able to quickly shift between working alone and together, and between more structured work and informal interactions. ​​
Balance in the types of spaces is key. Four foundational typologies of space allow an unlimited combination of highly effective spaces. They include: Personal, Collaboration, Social and Learning

Fixed to Fluid

In the future, to be more resilient, spaces will be designed for greater flexibility and mobility:​​ Multi-modal spaces will support multiple purposes and modes of work (think about how a café could be designed differently to boost utilisation throughout the day and incorporate team, individual and social work)​​.
Adaptable spaces – people and organisations need to be more agile and this requires spaces that can regularly morph and change as needed. Highly mobile furniture, power, technology and space division will also ease reconfiguration by facilities and users. Flexible architectural elements allow for multiple ways to reorganise space (E.g. Movable boundaries can turn a large conference room into two smaller spaces).​​

Open + Enclosed

People, who often did individual work in more dense, open spaces, desire more enclosure or shielding to control privacy and safety. They are less comfortable gathering with others in enclosed spaces, and so now, teams who frequently worked in enclosed conference rooms, prefer to be in more open settings, both for a sense of safety and the flexibility to expand and contract and adjust their space easily based on their activities. ​​
Designers will need to think about more options for individual spaces with a range of privacy (visual, acoustic and territorial) and control (movable screens, a range of enclaves available, etc).​​ Designers will also need to reinvent collaboration spaces so that they don’t always need four walls and a door. (open team spaces with flexible boundaries)​​.

Braiding Digital + Physical

People have embraced working from home, or an alternate location, and this hybrid approach to work will result in more frequent distributed collaboration (a reduction in travel may also continue to reduce environmental impact). ​​ Individuals and teams will continue to live and work on video and will need places to join video conferences without disturbing others. ​​
Teams will need spaces and technology to create inclusive experiences for those remote and physically present team members. ​​Smart, sensing technologies need to be embedded in the infrastructure and spaces need to be designed to support increasingly data driven and AI driven experiences. (E.g. Hands-free booking of spaces to promote a safer and seamless environment).  ​​

We’re here to help. A better work experience and a better workplace can start right now. Please get in touch and let us know how we can help you with your requirements.