19 Jun WORK IN THE TIME OF COVID-19
The global impact of COVID-19 has accelerated change but conversely it will drive a realignment to fundamentals of workplace design.
We’re almost three months living and working in a Covid-19 world, and to say our public and private lives have shifted immensely is an understatement. Perhaps the most prolific impact has been the loss of social proximity. On the back of that we have gained a sense of urgency to use digital platforms to connect and renegotiate work-life balances. This rate of change has been somewhat traumatic and our sense is that not only health but more importantly wellbeing will be a key driving force to manage recovery across industries.
Experience Led Workplace evolved over the past decade balancing talent retention, productivity and profit margins.
Before Covid-19 a range of trends informed forward looking office design. These include activations like hospitality led amenities; a range of diverse spaces that support tasks and productivity; striking a balance between open plan vs private offices and the extension of co-working spaces in aid of employee flexibility and choice. We have come along way in building wellbeing into our office interior design and perhaps Covid-19 has placed a renewed focus on health and safety – the very foundation of Workplace Wellbeing.
The ‘SAFE ECONOMY’
As we navigate the changing structures around us, it will be critical to acknowledge the emergence of ‘the safe economy’. Across disciplines and industries, measures that meet our markets will have to, on a basic level, make employees, consumers and guests feel safe.
Pre-COVID design briefs typically focussed on the upper tiers of the Maslow hierarchy of needs aiming for self actualisation, flexibility and choice. However, considering our current reality, we have work to do, in terms of the lower tiers which hinge on basic human needs. We believe design has a key role to play in reframing these measures and future briefs to support human connection with collaboration and empathy.
A key strategy would be to look at industries that have been working on balancing empathy & science. We have noticed a lot of progress in healthcare interior design practices and their design approach to wellbeing for both public & private spaces.
Uncertainty will undoubtedly bring about a renewed focus on how we maximise real estate. What will that look like?
The quick answer is that no one really knows, and there are no tried and tested guidelines. Instead it will be more realistic to rebuild a workplace that adapt as we learn. As a result of our continual studio discussions we have identified a few key considerations that we believe will drive resilient business and office spaces beyond the pandemic.
‘Every business is a health business’ (Accenture 2020) Workspaces will need to work harder not only in terms of smart materials and surfaces but also maintain intelligent operations that can remove friction and manage occupancy, wellness & hygiene. Industry dialogue identified the emergence of a new HR – a central system/platform that manages all channels (physical, digital & social) in an integrated way.
Virtual collaboration isn’t new however mass adoption thereof has been remarkable. It requires a critical consideration of how this phenomenon changes our physical environments including both our offices and our homes.
Brand Home Base
In uncertain times it is critical for businesses to maintain confidence and trust. Our sense is that physical workplace will remain key to maintain social cohesion and community within organisations.
Presumably office spaces will become smaller over time, but will also need to be high performing and multi-modal. It will need to adjust relatively quickly between meetings, co-working, social spaces.
Design for Resilience
Workplace will become a hybrid network of multi modal spaces, both IRL and virtual in order to be resilient.
In a time of flux and stand still (also known as the ‘great pause’, organisations have the opportunity to approach the next steps in a calculated and considered way. On a global level sentiments echo empathy for both societal values and the planet. Organisations will need to innovate and find intelligent solutions that result in public spaces that are purposeful and puts people first. (Safety, wellbeing and functionality)
Maximising the value of ‘intelligent’ built assets will continue to be a major driver for organisations. Taking into account the added challenge of constrained social proximity and a decentralised workforce. We believe flexibility and choice will continue to unlock effectiveness and productivity but may evolve over time as the restrictions lift and the pandemic becomes manageable. The aim would then be to design for both short term change management as well as long term resilience aligned to the emergent ‘safe economy’.
We believe workplace will still matter as the need for human interaction remains central to our wellbeing. Ultimately, people will continue to connect to each other, to organisations, and to communities supported by the built environment, ideally in a more measured and purposeful manner.
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