Never before have so many offices in so many cities undergone a redesign. And so many employers – who had already approved new layout plans prior to lockdown – going back to the drawing board.
Coronavirus has created new trends in office design – and done away with others completely. In years to come, for instance, you may find yourself telling your children and/or grandchildren about an office practice called ‘hot desking’ where different employees shared the same desk. Then listen to their cries of disbelief.
Another big no-no post-coronavirus is meetings where everyone sits around a giant table in the boardroom, seats a mere 0.5 metre apart. The future office meeting space will be just that – a dedicated space where employers can pick up cube-styled seats and place them within a decent distance of others.
Get used to seeing (or, rather, not seeing) see-thru Perspex panels everywhere too (the more ‘sophisticated’ office may have glass versions with branded etchings and a logo etc. In fact, we see a whole new industry in panel design growing. Moveable panels, of course, have been around in fit out design for years. But this is on a whole new level. These flexible panels are here to stay folks.
So, what other long-term changes can we expect to see in our offices of the future? At least until we have a covid-19 vaccine? Many of the changes will be dictated by government guidelines in relation to coronavirus. All offices with more than five employees must undertake a written risk assessment, in consultation with staff. The findings must then be carried out.
These findings should also be displayed on the company website if that firm has more than 50 employees. Meanwhile, small offices can show they have ‘done their bit’ by displaying the government’s Risk Assessment Certificate on their office wall:
Employers should ignore these government guidelines at their peril. That’s because failure to carry out an office risk assessment and act on it can result in a hefty fine and up to two years in prison. Yes, really!
Long-term changes for future office design
Here are some of the main alterations you can expect to face when you nip back to the office after so many months of absence:
Redesign. For most offices it’ll be empty seats – which could just make your employees feel lonely. But that needn’t be – the opposite could happen, in fact. That’s because this could be the perfect opportunity for a redesign. And one that makes for a more collaborative ‘club-like’ office space with small groupings of sofas, coffee tables, chairs and cafe tables. This design emphasises creative interaction. It’s still important to build an office culture, after all – something that’s not going to be quite so simple with more people working from home.
Image via Dezeen
The ‘hybrid office/social design model below uses ‘curtains’ which can be used to create pop-up meetings spaces and offering privacy at the same time. Furniture can be moved around because it’s all on wheels, while screens offer plain backdrops for Zoom calls.
Image via Dezeen
- Sanitisation units. Rubbing your hands with sanitiser spray as you enter the office is going to become as commonplace as using your electronic pass to gain gentry. You’ll do it without thinking eventually. Washing your hands six times per 24 hours isn’t unreasonable, say the guidelines.
- New signage. Instead of alarming yellow and black obtrusive stick-tape everywhere, signs with the company’s ‘colours’ are more design-friendly. They’re also less alarming if the messages are friendly rather than taking a ‘warning’ tone. Discreet arrows on carpet tiles to direct visitors to walk a particular way, or to zone areas can actually enhance design.
Image via Frameweb.com
- One-way movement. Where before it was possible to mingle in the corridor and hang out with colleagues at the water cooler you’ll just keep walking in a straight line and in the one direction. Especially in corridors and on stairs. And don’t expect the lift to be working any time soon…
- Bigger desks. In order to make social distancing between employees easier, desks of the future will be larger. There will also be more space between desks than there is at present. In fact, there will be more space in the office overall (which, let’s face it, isn’t a bad thing, really).
Actually, on this very point – office space – a survey carried out by the British Council of Offices (BCO) showed that the average space between workstations had shrunk from 11.8 square metres to 9.6 square metres from 2008 to 2018.
- Motion sensors. The less items we touch with our hands, the more likely we are to keep coronavirus at bay. So, future offices will have a lot more motion sensitive doors, lights and ventilation systems. Facial recognition passcodes are already in use in certain establishments but will probably become more commonplace in the future.
- Colder offices. More windows will be open to allow fresh air to circulate. Ventilation systems will also be more effective. But forget huddling over the heater in winter. Invest in thermal undergarments now.
- Outdoor access. Those investing in commercial real estate will be looking for offices with a terrace, balcony or garden. In other words, a space where staff can sit outside and work on their laptop or have lunch on a sunny day.
- More bike racks. No-one wants to take public transport to get to the office these days. Whether it’s the bus, train or the underground these are the no-go areas and the ones to avoid if possible. And it’s why you’ve seen so many more people in towns and cities on bikes. So, get used to seeing more bike racks around – or foldup bikes leaning against desks.
- Biophilia. Introducing more plants into an office environment is believed to bring more of a sense of calm. That’s thanks to the fact it reminds people of outdoors and fresh air (rather than computer screens). It’s healthier too, thanks to the oxygen it’s releasing into the atmosphere. Large plants can also be to zone areas, rather than screens.
And finally, once your employer has sorted out all of the above, there’s just one more thing…Those pretty disruptive changes to the layout and day-to-day functioning of the office may result in security issues. So, there’s something else to sort out then.