OFFICES FOR THE NEW NORMAL
The last few months have seen a change in Covid restrictions, and more companies are returning to their offices.
People have seen that there are different ways of working and staff don’t need to sit at their desks for 8 hours a day to be productive and meet deadlines. Working from home has encouraged people to engage differently, communicate more efficiently and forced us all to become more tech-savvy. Online meetings are now commonplace and has become the way of the future as we spend less time commuting between meetings and have more time to focus on work.
Having grown accustomed to the comforts of home these past two years, companies face a challenge to create office environments that are inspiring places to come back to and spend time in. So, how do we create office environments that support ‘the new normal’?
The layout of your office needs to allow for different zones of work, that can accommodate a range of activities, as well as different ways of working that may be required by different departments. Efficient planning can support the diversity of modern work practices and will allow for a dynamic and flexible workplace. Available office space can be optimised by sharing facilities for different departments. These would include central huddle areas, shared meeting rooms, communal working desks, and a selection of breakaway areas.
Here are five ways to optimise your office:
- HYBRID WORKSPACES
Designing for flexibility can be challenging. Allow for a combination of the following types of work zones to optimise in-office work to create areas that can accommodate everything from a quick meeting to a full day in the office:
- Traditional Desk-based work (4-8 hours/day): Many people will still prefer the option of fixed seating area for long hours of focussed tasks. This can be bench-style desking for desk-based activities or more traditional ways of working, for example in cellular offices or open plan areas. Smaller modular desks will always be a better choice.
- Communal Desking (1-4 hours/day): Centralized communal desks are for shared activities, for groups or individuals. These are aimed at accommodating group tasks, where the privacy of a formal meeting room is not required. These areas would be fitted with the necessary data/electrical points to accommodate work on laptops/tablets.
- Desk Pods for focused private work (1-4 hours/day): Freestanding desk cubicles with acoustic screening. These pods can function as break-away desks where individuals can do high-intensity focused work for a few hours. This type of work usually requires a level of concentration not conducive in an open plan office environment. This type of desk is also good for hot desking, or to accommodate external consultants that don’t require a full-time desk.
- Chair Pods (0-2 hours/session): High-backed armchairs with an integrated writing surface, provides a less formal setting to have informal meetings or do short tasks. This can accommodate visitors/staff who want to do work while waiting for a meeting, or a short ad-hoc internal meeting that doesn’t require the privacy of a closed boardroom.
- Casual Seating Areas: (0-30mins/session): These are internal seating areas for quick informal meetings that can also function as break-away zones for staff, in combination with small coffee stations. These areas would be fitted with the necessary data/electrical points to accommodate work as necessary.
Collaboration plays an invaluable part in office life, whether it is online or face-to-face. Office dwellers should be encouraged to use communal spaces which result in chance encounters and collaboration. A key facilitator is having shared facilities. Not only does it optimise space usage, and function as a way of demarcating different departments / areas, but it can improve staff communication, which is important for a variety of reasons: To improve opportunities for engagement around the work itself (a sense of purpose); to improve the visibility and accessibility of role-players and structures (a sense of belonging); and to improve the ordinary and everyday social experience of staff (a sense of wellbeing).
The office layout should take this into consideration and allow for as many shared areas as possible to encourages these opportunities. Social interactions lead to good ideas. A strong social network in the office re-enforces corporate loyalty and identity and seeks to reduce staff turnover and maximise input.
Flexibility of layouts enable work areas to be subdivided to facilitate organisational divisions without compromising security or confidentiality. Smaller desks are more mobile and easier to move around. Acoustic screens or low shelving can be used as space dividers instead of fixed walls. The introduction of central storage lockers gives the benefit of having a secure space to store personal goods and frees up the desk by replacing traditional bulky credenzas.
- HEALTHY OFFICES
Focus on creating healthy work environments that are energy efficient, resource efficient, environmentally responsible, and improves the mental and physical health, comfort, and productivity of its occupants. The following elements contribute to creating healthy work environments:
- Biophilic Design: This is more than a few office plants. Biophilic Design mimics nature with the aim of improving indoor environments. This can include planted areas, outdoor areas, or the use of natural materials in the space. This sense of connection to nature improves staff health and wellbeing. Making sure areas are well ventilated or having access to outdoor areas improves air quality. Natural daylight and adequate internal lighting levels ensure staff comfort.
- Acoustic Comfort: Ambient noise can cause unnecessary interruptions and inability to focus. Internal noise levels are not only direct/ specific sources of sounds such as talking, but ‘background’ noise, such as HVAC, computer noises or general office activity all contribute. Effective sound absorption/sound reduction is a result of a combination of acoustic features in a room. Consider using some of the following available solutions: Acoustic ceiling tiles, hanging ceiling baffles, desk-based screens, and acoustic carpet tiles.
- Sustainability: Sustainability is not only about reducing our carbon footprint, but about making responsible choices when specifying products in the office. Look at products that have been manufactured in a sustainable way and don’t contain any harmful compounds that could affect the health of staff during its lifetime, such as VOC’s and Formaldehyde.
- TECHNOLOGY AND INNOVATION:
Office design should follow the path of modernisation and technological advance. Contactless solutions and facial recognition mean less touching. Bookable desks and meeting rooms allow staff to optimise their daily planning around their schedule. Apps and online platforms support these systems and users can book a desk or meeting room remotely at short notice. Provide smart screens in meeting rooms that can be used for presentations as well as virtual meetings.
Considering how much time we spend working, our health and happiness are fundamentally affected by our work and the environments we spend time in – small changes can make a big difference.
Photographs by Teneighty, Courtesy of the JSE.
Interior Design Director