COVID-19 has accelerated the reach of remote and flexible working far more rapidly than previously predicted. In a world more remotely-enabled than ever before, how will office design continue to drive business success and support employee wellbeing?
Last year, as the world locked down and office employees began the adjustment to working from home, we quickly started to view remote working as an essential part of our professional lives, and amidst new restrictions and lockdown measures, the function of the office has come into question once again. Throughout this past year, we’ve seen a renewed focus on employee wellbeing and learned that the office of the future will need to support our new flexible working habits, enable collaborative work and cultivate a healthy employee experience by design.
As part of our own ongoing return to work strategy, we conducted a survey of both internal and external office staff, aimed at measuring the sentiments of remote and flexible workers toward the office. We’ve seen an affirmed appreciation for human connection this past year, and this was reflected in the results of our survey: when asked which three things they missed most about the office, we found that 54% of remote workers miss their colleague relationships, while 47% are missing a more distinct work/life balance and 26% the choice of working in a different setting.
So, while our newfound capacity for remote working has equipped businesses with a greater degree of agility and adaptability, it’s also thrown the specific need for localised workspace into sharp relief. “Human nature seeks interaction – it’s what helps us grow, develop and learn,” says Oktra Design Director Cheré Falconer. “We lose this by being totally virtual, and that’s why the office will return, but a little redefined.”
Sustained remote working has meant that working relationships now have a deeper foundation of trust to draw from. This, along with people’s shifting feelings around office-based working, will naturally develop into a flexible working style, based around employees’ personal comfort levels. With many companies anticipating a working week where most staff work from home two out of five days, it’s important that businesses start considering flexible working strategies, and how to support staff in the transition.
With that in mind, how can we use office design to ensure that when employees do return to the workplace, it delivers the experience they need? Managing Director at Oktra, Martin Reeves, explains that “future workspaces will need to build on the power of design to help people connect with each other, and encourage active collaboration. Offices need to be able to support those ad hoc conversations where you can ask for advice, or celebrate a shared win—those moments that really make you feel like you’re part of a community, like you’re all working together.”
With people keen to return to the workplace in order to reconnect and refresh, the office needs to become a different space to that with which we were accustomed before the pandemic: somewhere with flexible working strategies built into its design.
The flexible office of the future will be structured to provide environmental variety and space for collaboration, with bookable meeting areas and agile spaces, and less focus on the isolated workstation. There will be an undeniable emphasis on catering to employee requirements and wellbeing as the office will ultimately be in competition with the home as a working environment. The domestic sphere will continue to be reflected in soft design elements and spaces like breakout and dining areas, and amenities will become a major part of promoting a good work/life balance as well as talent attraction and retention. Wellbeing-focused design considerations such as biophilia, natural materials, and a soft colour palette, as well as human-centred lighting and improved ventilation are part of a push towards design for employee wellbeing, which will help employees stay comfortable and productive.
As well as providing an environment for flexible and collaborative work, the office will need to provide environments in which to unwind and connect socially. The workplace of the future is a destination in itself, capable of enticing staff members back to the office who may have become accustomed to the comforts of home, as well as helping to attract and retain the very best talent. Whilst also supporting day-to-day business functions, workspace will need to accommodate events to liaise with clients and suppliers, along with internal gatherings: both recognising staff’s achievements and enabling employees to organically network amongst themselves.
As employees continue to return to the workplace, the office’s weight of importance has naturally shifted towards its role as a physical space, and its unique ability to support staff in a physical and psychological capacity. Investing in the infrastructure to support the variety of work environments the future workspace will provide, as well as its available facilities and amenities, will help motivate and invigorate staff, keeping businesses healthy, productive and profitable as a result.