By Dr Eugene Brink
Covid-19 has certainly spurred the work-from-home trend and this is set to continue.
However, offices will not vanish altogether and will probably evolve into some kind of hybrid (albeit rejigged) model incorporating office life and home offices. Let’s take a glimpse into what office workers should expect in terms of the designs and measures that are likely to envelop them in the future – to keep them safe from the virus whilst ensuring optimal productivity.
Management consultancy McKinsey states that, traditionally, few offices have been designed to support specific organisational priorities. Hence they should be completely rethought in the post-Covid era and some pertinent questions must be asked.
“Organisations could create workspaces specifically designed to support the kinds of interactions that cannot happen remotely,” according to McKinsey. “If the primary purpose of an organisation’s space is to accommodate specific moments of collaboration rather than individual work, for example, should 80 percent of the office be devoted to collaboration rooms? Should organisations ask all employees who work in cubicles, and rarely have to attend group meetings, to work from homes? If office space is needed only for those who cannot do so, are working spaces close to where employees live a better solution?”
- Ensuring social distancing
Businesses who have made use of open structures in the past may use larger tables in the future to accommodate multiple workers – especially those who are not in the office all day, says office design firm Vicus Partners. Chairs will still have to be staggered around the table to ensure a sizeable working distance. “For instance, a table that once could fit eight people may now have to accommodate only three. But those five other employees may be able to work from home those days. Additionally, businesses may add ‘workstation enclosures’ like transparent plastic or glass screening panels that can protect employees but still allow them to see one another and interact.”
Clayton Whitman, journalist at Work Design Magazine, writes that in order to adjust to lower occupancy, office design must implement what he calls “touchdown spaces”. “These spaces would be similar to private phone rooms, but slightly larger to accommodate one or two people. Touchdown spaces in offices will begin to resemble furniture showrooms: fully functional but not belonging to one person.
“Rather than having a desk that is only used 50 percent of the time, creating touchdown rooms would allow for people to come into the office on the days they please and have a place to work, without taking up the space of a personal desk.”
- The furniture and appliances of the future
It is safe to assume that the pandemic will not recede anytime soon and furniture – being the objects that we utilise the most in our workspace – must be adapted to this reality. All-round practicality must also be borne in mind. “Lightweight, kinetic and flexible furniture that is easily movable, reconfigured, and sanitized will help ensure that you are keeping your employees safe and provide you with the flexibility to change your floor plans when needed. Additionally, microfibre couches and chairs are great for cleaning up spills,” says Vicus Partners.
Whitman says there will also be a rise in the use of antimicrobial surfaces in workplace design, but “this does not mean all offices will become full of surfaces made out of naturally antimicrobial metals like silver”. Woods and natural stones are also apposite choices for antimicrobial purposes.
Clayton Whitman, 2021, “A Look Into The Workplace Post-COVID-19: The ‘Anti-Office’ ”, https://www.workdesign.com/2020/06/a-look-into-the-workplace-post-covid-19-the-anti-office/.
McKinsey, 8 June 2020, “Reimagining the office and work life after COVID-19”, https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/reimagining-the-office-and-work-life-after-covid-19.
Vicus Partners, 2021, “How to Ensure Employees Feel Safe In Their Post COVID-19 Office Space”, https://vicuspartners.com/articles/6-office-design-trends-post-covid-19/