This time last year, no one could have predicted what lay ahead and the impact that Covid-19 would have on the workplace. Did we for one minute think that, 12 months on, the daily commute would be quite so different?
Working from home, or WFH as it is affectionately known, has undoubtedly become the greatest shift in working patterns we have seen. Some have adapted well whilst others yearn for a return to the office. One thing is for sure, the workplace as we know it has changed for the long term, but is home working now here to stay and what does this mean for the office?
What will the office of the future look like?
For many of us, our contracts give our place of work as the office. Our employers like to keep an eye on us. There has long been a chasm of trust between employers and their employees and although the benefits of agility and flexibility (regarding the workforce) have long been discussed, companies have been reluctant to offer too much flexibility (if any) to their employees. They wanted to see hard evidence. They needed proof that their employees could be trusted to work from home.
The past 12 months have provided that evidence. With the increase in working from home, companies are having to measure productivity through output, rather than presenteeism, and, in many cases, they are seeing a noticeable difference. It turns out that we can be trusted to work from home.
We have proved that we can work from home but as research shows, there is still a big desire to return to the office. A recent Institute of Employment Studies report shows that seven in ten (73%) of workers would prefer to work from home only some of the time. We are social beings, after all. We need to interact with others for creativity, for development, and for our own wellbeing. What we really want is the best of both worlds. We want the flexibility to work where we want and when we want.
The importance of wellbeing in the workplace
Just as agility and flexibility in the workplace has long been discussed, so has employee wellbeing and its link to productivity. Over the past decade, we have developed a greater understanding of the links between the two. However, it’s also clear that there’s an implementation gap, with many companies not yet embracing the wellbeing agenda to full effect.
The covid pandemic has put wellbeing in the spotlight and has accelerated the conversation about the importance of looking after their employees. The question now is, “will organisations use these conversations to inform the future design of their offices?” They certainly should.
The pandemic has presented organisations with an opportunity to assess the place of work. When you trust and empower your employees to work when and where they want, and you facilitate this, you increase wellbeing and you increase productivity.
The office is not dead but it does need to change. It needs to become a purposeful place. There is a good argument that home should now become the default ‘place of work’, with employees only traveling to the office when they need to. Thought needs to be given to the purpose of the office and the tasks that will be performed there.
Could Activity-based working be the answer?
If the office is to be an experience, we need to move away from homogenised boxes. An activity-based working environment features multiple working areas, designed around different activities. They support flexibility and mobility, and the prediction is that activity-based working is the future of the workplace.
Examples of activity-based working include booths, small focus rooms, collaboration zones, relaxed areas.
Evidence shows that activity-based working increases productivity. By allowing people to choose the environment that best suits the task in hand, employees are likely to achieve more. Whether it’s allowing them a quiet space to work in, somewhere a little less formal, or somewhere where they can comfortably collaborate with team members–the right space for the right job can make all the difference.
By zoning and redesigning your workspace, you can take into consideration social distancing and hygiene factors, giving employees the piece of mind and confidence to return to work. Safety screens can be easily installed, and a less open-plan workplace reduces the impact of an outbreak.
Whatever the future of the office, organisations have an opportunity to take stock of their buildings and create spaces that are fit for purpose, and a pleasure for staff to want to come and work in.
About X2 Furniture Ltd.: X2 Furniture is a consultancy-led business based in the West Midlands. They offer office planning and design, commercial fit outs, commercial furniture and covid-19 safety solutions. For further information, visit https://x2furniture.co.uk/