Last week Howard and I attended a RIBA Journal webinar event about the future of the workplace. We especially liked the idea presented by Sunil Johal (from BeFlow Consultants) about the office as the nucleus of the workplace; the hub where creativity and collaboration happens but isn’t necessarily where all work takes place.
An incredibly relevant subject at the moment for our ongoing and future projects, our own research and for our clients, I thought we would share some important insights from the seminars as well as our own thoughts…
Is working from home sustainable?
- The benefits include freedom, flexibility and ease of working around our hectic lives with less need to ‘clock in and out’. Especially beneficial for those who perhaps struggled with the commute to work and the restraints of the office (e.g. those with disabilities)
- However, the Remote Working Review 2020 addresses some of the limitations with working at home, including a sense of loneliness, struggling more with work/life balance and lack of motivation. We have all experienced distractions that working from home can bring – whether its family or simply life getting in the way of a normal 9 to 5 working day.
We are getting used to working away from the office, but is this best for not only businesses but our wellbeing?
Is the ‘office’ as we know it obsolete?
- For many, including the turnerbates team, our physical office in London Bridge now acts as a creative heart where employees can go to collaborate. There is a sense of place and togetherness that is created within an office environment, and that cannot be fully emulated through video chats like Zoom.
- Sunil raised some familiar issues in the webinar that we all have to think about. What does less hours of interaction in the office mean for company culture and recruiting people that fit into that culture? What can workplaces offer in terms of wellbeing when they are not based solely in the office?
What does it mean for designing workplaces?
One thing is for sure, workplaces will no longer just be the physical office, and changes to design and how they function will have to change with our new ways of working.
- Flexibility is a core consideration. Let’s create multifunctional, flexible spaces that can be used in multiple ways and changed as needs adapt, for example meeting and events rooms that can be booked in advance. In fact, flexibility has been an essential feature of our workplace design for international real estate organisation, Vastint.
- In Warsaw, for example, the Vastint office lobbies are an extension of the office. With a casual layout and lounge seating, they are ‘attractive and friendly spaces that encourage visitors and tenants to relax, drink coffee and hold less formal business meetings. Without having to leave the building or find a coffee shop, the lobbies allow employees to take a break from the daily office routine in a flexible and attractive space’ [Howard Bates].
Might these casual and welcoming spaces be the new preferred setting for our office ‘nucleus’?
- Allowance within the design for how people are travelling to work. Hopefully more people will be walking, running, cycling to work. As a sustainable business always looking to lower emissions and encourage tenant wellbeing, bike stores, showers and lockers are key components we consider when designing Vastint offices.
- Lower capacity within the office – with some people working from home this could work better than we might think. The office would act as more of a meeting point, but not a permanent space. Of course, the desks that are in the office will be spaced out in accordance to social distancing measures, but will they be hot desks? Who will manage the space?
- Wayfinding – Clear signage and routes around the office in line with social distancing and well signposted guidance and sanitizers. In all of our workplace projects, signage and wayfinding is essential for welcoming visitors and helping them feel at ease, for example within our design at iconic Fort Dunlop building in Birmingham. This will become even more important.
- Technology, including contactless interaction within the workplace. We are lucky to be living in a world where the likes of online chats and videoing are possible – not only for making collaboration easier, but also for combatting loneliness. Integration of this type of technology, and contactless and intelligent buildings with automatic doors, key cards for lifts, more use of AI will be essential in our future workplaces.
- Management and support. When teams are working remotely, it is essential to maintain constant flows of communication and information – not only for managing workloads, but also for employee wellbeing.
As the famous quote by Aristotle goes, ‘man is by nature a sociable animal’, and whilst we may be in an exciting time where the definition of a ‘workplace’ is constantly changing, we believe that the office will still be essential in fostering relationships, collaborating and celebrating company culture.
Jess Hill, (Marketing & Research Manager)
Illustrations by Robyn Thurston