For the past year, remote working has become the “norm” for many, resulting in many major shake ups in how business is conducted. With numerous Covid vaccines now available, the serious questions are ‘how do we return to the workspace safely?’ and ‘what will be different?’. To answer, we must first look at how Working From Home and the pandemic have changed priorities and opinions about the workplace.
Remote working and WFH have significantly accelerated the shift from a workplace-centric to a worker–centric approach, away from cost-revenue based designs aimed at getting the most workstations per square foot to designs meant to enhance the overall employee experience. Worker safety is the top priority. Safety factors include air quality and filtration, safety procedures, overall office cleanliness, and density; these are key factors in providing a sense of security that promotes worker well-being, happiness, and productivity. Equally important, employees are looking for a sense of belonging, community, and productive purpose; it matters whether the work they are completing from their living room desk is meaningful and contributes to a broader goal. While promoting safety from Covid, WFH has numerous downsides. Workers may struggle with a sense of isolation and disconnection from social engagement, collaboration, and productivity
What do these priorities and concerns mean for the office? They present us with an opportunity to re-examine and re-design the workspace in a fundamental way. As architects, we are freed to creatively design for safe, flexible office plans that promote productivity and a shared sense of community whether in-person or remote. Hybrid offices allowing for both in-person and remote access are evolving. The primary function of the office may shift to a collaborative space, while individual desks would serve as plug-in stations and resource access. With the increased shift to remote-work, hoteling will increase, freeing up space and costs, allowing for ever- greater focus on improvements that promote seamless collaborative communication. A successful office will be flexible, multipurpose and multi-modal. The act of working no longer occurs in a specific place; offices will reflect and further facilitate this change.
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