This year’s unprecedented shift to remote working has shown that it’s time to start actively imagining a safe, radical alternative to the traditional office design model in which new generations can work and thrive in a future post COVID-19.
With the shockwaves of COVID-19 still resonating around the world, some of the areas transforming most are our working environments. This year has seen the world’s economy enter total flux, driving many to theorise that the shift from structured full-time employment to a more free-flowing freelance model will see widespread acceleration in the near future, as companies look to streamline costs as well as prioritise employee safety by limiting the number of staff in a physical workspace. Newly graduated members of Gen Z will likely be working in a world where the gig economy is the norm: but with the current trend for multi-purpose, open-plan workspaces effectively halted by social distancing regulations, what will the office spaces of the future need to look like?
According to the Workforce Institute, Gen Z’s attitudes to work differ hugely from the more progress-orientated ideals of Millennial motivation—an understandable shift, with this generation facing the worst recession since the 1930s, and unemployment of those with mid-level qualifications expected to reach 27% in upcoming years.
Valuing job security and financial stability, it’s likely that the emerging Gen Z workforce will be highly driven, pursuing multiple income streams in order to acquire the kind of diversity that can withstand the huge economic shifts they’ve grown up with. In contrast to Millennials’ willingness to embrace virtual meetings, interactions, and learning environments, Gen Z tend to prefer face-to-face communication, so it’s important to remember that, despite the increase in remote and freelance collaboration, the physical workspace will continue to be a necessary and vital hub of working culture and community.
Flexible working, through a combination of digital and physical channels, has quickly become the standard. As a result, comparatively private spaces within the office plan, where staff can take part in digital meetings while maintaining distance, are becoming more common. Workplace culture will also change: good communication skills, while always having been important, will become essential in both digital and physical environments, in order to maintain trust and a sense of cohesive workplace identity and goals between team members.
Creativity can flourish within restrictions, and we believe that what might appear to be an obstacle is often only a challenge, requiring invention and a willingness to interrogate traditional ideas. This period of transition will lead the workplaces of future generations to not only embrace and integrate new technologies into daily working life, but also to rigorously assess office infrastructure. Already, we’re implementing new solutions for the unique challenges of these uncertain times, building agility and adaptability into our workspaces to accommodate for the natural flexing of staff numbers in the office. As social distancing guidelines continue to remain in place and typical work models continue to adjust, our approach to workplace design will continue to transform.
Businesses are combating potential transference risks through behavioural and environmental measures like desk booking systems, additional hand washing stations, two-metre social distancing and one-way flow systems. Employee health and wellbeing have a renewed focus with an emphasis on natural lighting, temperature control and better air quality to help keep employees happy amidst the fluctuations of working life with COVID-19. All these measures and more, in conjunction with the increased flexibility of remote working, have the potential to revolutionise how and what the office can accomplish.