Covid-19 is a Black Swan event of our times, and it has forced us to re-think the way we use our offices.
As we grapple to cope with our changed world, there are dramatic extremes which seem to bookend the sequence of potential design outcomes. Different organisation will land at different points along this scale, and we as designers can provide tailored solutions to meet their varying needs.
Some of our clients are considering eliminating their fixed office space entirely, having mastered remote working. Some are intending to continue with 100% of staff working from home and flexing into co-share office spaces when needed, proficiently using technology as their main form of communication.
Others say that the forced separation (and isolation) has ignited a renewed respect and appreciation of the office. People need people, and the office is recognised to play a vital role in facilitating and maintaining working relationships. For some, Covid-19 is being seen as an opportunity to revamp their workspaces, improving the environment to ensure that when people return, they can work better than they did before.
Many are also looking at a hybrid model - partly working remotely and partly at the office, with a reduced fixed office footprint.
One thing is for sure - no one size fits all.
As leading workplace designers WMK are assisting our portfolio of clients with preparing their work environments for the reality of living with Covid-19.
We have proven methods for working with our clients to determine what approach is best for them, and are able to tailor our design initiative to achieve the appropriate solution.
Clever changes to existing work environments can assist organisations manage the gradual return of their staff to the office, while some bold new ideas in the design of office environments moving forward may challenge convention and have the potential to pave the way to a future of opportunity.
Smart design can assist in guiding smart behaviours
Many of the necessary changes will be behavioural and extend beyond the boundaries of the office space. Strong and clear communication between tenants, landlords, building managers and stakeholders will be vital to manage the hygiene and navigation of shared access and egress paths through the building which lie outside of the tenants leased footprint, and their immediate control. We note that the success of all initiatives will be dependent on the governance of new behaviours and operations across all stakeholder groups.
We live and work in an interconnected world and what we do now, more than ever, effects others. By working together we can create a safer space to work and connect.
Possibilities for what we can do now
Address the physical allocation of space within the office. Recut floor plans to accommodate a reduced density including the removal of (now) superfluous task chairs and loose furniture.
Choreograph circulation paths to assist in reduced foot traffic in common areas such as access and egress points, lifts and stairs, and shared spaces such as kitchens and breakouts.
Install beautifully designed graphic information overlays to clearly communicate safe behaviours and distancing protocols so staff feel confident and comfortable in their return to the office.
Your Meeting Room Is Dead But Don’t Let Unusable Space Go To Waste. No longer can we enclose 6 to 8 people inside a 12m2 room, but these valuable spaces can still be used to accommodate different functions through clever repurposing.
Think Flexible. Initiate smart design solutions which allow organisations to flex and contact their space allocation as needed. Communal social spaces (breakout spaces, conference rooms etc) can be commandeered for work zones, their hospitality style loose furniture making way for relocated workstations thus spreading out workpoints.
Embrace Technology. Increased use of digital communication tools to facilitate meetings, collaboration exercises and group discussions in lieu of gathering in enclosed meeting rooms. Utilise existing comms tools or invest in VC systems which include high quality screens, microphones and cameras to enable communications both within the office space as well as with remote workers.
The New Clean Desk Policy. Implement professional cleaning and sanitising protocols for workstations, conference rooms, reception desks, and social/common areas at regular intervals throughout the day.
Change Management and Communication. Once new protocols are established conduct digital engagement sessions with staff groups on how to safely use the space. Communicate new seating arrangements, navigation and congregation rules. Note that clear and effective communication is key to maintaining a healthy workplace, and a healthy workplace considers both the physical, environmental, mental and emotional states of the spaces and those that use them.
What could the future look like?
An Enhanced Workplace Experience
As different organisations have achieved varying levels of success with a remote workforce, some may now be assessing the value of their office. What benefit does it provide to the business? If we could make changes, what would we change and how? Each organisation is different and has different needs and as these needs pivot in response to covid-19, so could their workspaces. Perhaps the office can take on a new found representation of culture and community, and be an embodiment of the organisation’s brand and values? New ways to manifest brand in the built environment could produce an enhanced client and staff experience, making for an evolved workplace that supports, reflects and facilitates culture and community, whether working from home continues or not.
A New Way to Arrive
As good hand hygiene remains a top defence against the spread of pathogens, consider the facilities which enable the act of washing. These are generally located in bathrooms, away from public view, with many touch points in-between the washing area and the office. A unique user experience could be designed where the washing station is celebrated and brought front and centre to the entry of the office space. A water vessel reminiscent of a luxury day spa accompanied by beautiful soap product could transform this act into a celebrated arrival ritual, encouraging participation from both clients and staff.
Focus on Health and Wellness
As workspaces that actively support the health of staff are in increasing demand, buildings which offer wellbeing support spaces and services are highly sort after by tenants. As people look to alternative modes of transport to our city’s congested public systems, these commutes need to be supported by quality End of Trip facilities. These wellness support spaces need not be restricted to new builds - through smart design space can be found even in the tightest or darkest basements and carparks of existing buildings. Through the clever selection of materials and finishes, WMK have brought touches of hotel style lux to established commercial buildings in industrial suburbs, as well as more central CBD locations. This kind of refurbishment work can bring a new future to an older building, create a destination out of an address, and make coming into the office a whole lot healthier.
A Healthy Future is a Sustainable One
Every step towards designing a path through the covid pandemic can be an opportunity to deliver an environmentally, socially and economically sustainable solution. An integrated approach can achieve enduring benefits through utilising sustainable materials and processes, sourcing locally manufactured high quality product, implementing energy efficient systems, and reducing the quantity of waste produced. As we rush to make changes to our workspaces to enable a return to operations, WMK's award-winning environmentally sustainable design expertise can deliver innovation together with holistic and commercially viable sustainability solutions.
This document is general in nature and not intended to provide advice, set a standard or identify specific obligations as it relates to the workplace. If this has raised concern for your workplace, please get in touch and WMK can assist with your specific requirements.
Read more in our Working in a new era series: