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Office talk: How is work changing?

In a short series of articles, we speak to a group of professionals from the world of workplace design, asking the big questions about the changes we all face when it comes to our work life.

As the world comes to terms with a “new normal” and more people getting back to work, we invite a variety of professionals to share their insight into what office life will be like now, and into the future.

 

In the first of four articles examining their experiences, we hear from architects and researchers about how the workplace has changed already, and what they feel the future holds.

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"How have working lives changed, and what effect will this have on the workplace?"

The first question posed to our respondents was how their particular working life has changed, and what effect this has had on their workplace. The answer was unanimous - working from home has risen dramatically, with most accepting that this is will continue into the future, as the current global situation seems far from over.

 

Marco Checchi, Partner Interior Architect, Studio Stockholm: “There will be a general fear of infection amongst people, not just from Covid-19, but for any future virus’. I think working from home will remain in the future.”

 

However, none goes as far as to suggest that this is the end of the dedicated office. Most agree that there will always be a need for a company to have a communal workspace.

 

Wivian Eidsaunet, a partner at Spectrum Arkiteker highlights this with her company’s research: “We know from our own surveys that on average you want to work from home about two to two and a half days a week. This will make the office an increasingly important meeting place and culture.”

 

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architect drawing of a workplace pre covid-19

Wivian Eidsaunet, Partner at Spectrum Arkiteker also shared a set of diagrams detailing a current typical workplace layout, and the potential changes that could be put in place to meet social distancing requirements.

architect drawing of a workplace with corona-virus measures in place

The big change will be what work people do where. The home office will be a place for focused work, whilst the office provides more collaborative, communal workspaces. Video meetings are now the dominant meeting format, and for many, surprisingly effective. In addition, with the financial outlook uncertain, they offer an economical alternative to business trips.

 

Superlab, Workplace research lab: “Offices that used to be a place for personal work will need to be evaluated. However, we are social beings and many are missing (whilst working from home) the community, knowledge transfer and spontaneous meetings offered by the office. The focus will, therefore, be on meetings and cooperation between people. We will probably see a reduced proportion of standard workstations in favour of meeting spaces and a strong increase of room for video meetings of different sizes.”

 

This change in office structure is already becoming a reality, with some firms already looking to make tangible changes.

 

Johanna Munck af-rosenschöld, Vice Director, Strategisk Arkitektur: “We already have a number of customers who have contacted us for assistance with their post-Corona floor plan… We will see more video-equipped meeting rooms. Telework has made it clear to many companies that travel and conferences can actually be resolved digitally. Psychologically, companies will be cautious with large gatherings – virtual meetings have shown they are a viable alternative for now.”

collage of workplace meeting room idea imagery

Spectrum Arkiteker also shared a some ideas on how future corridor meeting rooms might take shape

Aside from the general usage of the office, there were key points made about potential changes to the layout, including arguments for more space to cater for prolonged social distancing measures.

 

Mustafa Afsaroglu, Co-founder Taner’s Sons Design Studio: “I believe (and hope) there will be more space in the office environment, generally speaking, more circulation, generous spacing between desks, simply a more luxurious space in terms of volume.”

 

“I really hope we do not go down a route of introducing desk dividers/cubicles because it would not be worth going back to the office. Instead, space out the desks and have fewer people in the building by scheduling work from office days.”

 

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The responses reflect an irreversible change in attitudes when it comes to how we work. The global ‘working-from-home experiment’ has shown that for many, it can be a productive, viable alternative, giving flexibility to employees and the responsibility to manage their own time effectively. The hope is that this change will be carried forward, but it brings with it a paradigm shift – that employers who like to always feel in control may be uncomfortable with.

 

Superlab: “Pyramid structures in organizations are eroded when leadership must be done remotely and "Monitoring" is not possible… Those who understand that work is not a physical place but a mental action will be winners when working methods and cultures are faced with new challenges.”

 

Judith Dorlandt, Senior Consultant,  Service & Workplace Design, Hospitality Group: “I think that the office will get a whole new purpose. This whole situation has taught us that we can work anywhere… If that means someone is coming to the office every day because that makes him happy or if it means that someone will start his day at the espresso bar because he gets inspired there, who are we to judge? At the end of the day, it is up to the employees to choose the workplace that suits them. There is where productivity, creativity and innovation will start: Happy employees!”

 

Watch out for part two, published next week.

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