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The office of the future, what will it look like?

Updated: Sep 9, 2020

The global pandemic caused by the 2019 novel coronavirus has seen the world confined to lock down status, with anyone who is able to, being encouraged to stay at home and work from home. This has resulted in a mass uptake of technologies, enabling people to connect digitally; a new view of remote working and managing; an adoption of new work structures; and many wondering what the office of the future will look like.

So what does the future hold for the physical office? As with most things in life, there is no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to working from home versus returning to an office environment. This applies at an employee, team, departmental and organizational level. Some job functions are well geared for a seamless transition to a new work environment, others are completely dependent on location. Some people have loved the flexibility and freedom of working in their homes, others simply don’t have the space nor the resources to effectively set up a “home office,” and some employees have struggled to define where professional life ends and personal life begins.

In order to cater to the varying needs of an employee population, business owners and management are going to need to take a flexible approach to the work place, and review the function and the form of the office, to achieve maximum employee productivity and satisfaction.

One thing that is clear, the office space of the future won’t look as it did before the pandemic. Businesses will need to engage with their employees to find out how and where they want to work. They will need to redesign their office spaces and layouts to accommodate for safety procedures and precautions; social distancing; reduced numbers in traditionally high traffic areas such as elevators and canteens; new technologies and fit-for-purpose work spaces.

First and foremost, people need to feel safe when entering a work environment, be it visitor or staff member. Safety procedures and precautions such as physical barriers, safety signage, temperature checks, sanitizer stations, regular surface cleaning, safety screens and the wearing of masks or visors will need to be written into company protocols. The reality and consequences of this pandemic have highlighted the need for permanent attitudinal and physical change.

There will be an uptake of new and upgraded technologies in new builds and office revamps. Smart building technologies like smart heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems; infrared cameras that measure the body temperatures of persons entering an office space; washroom sensors to track whether staff are washing their hands for an appropriate length of time; touchless elevator controls and sensor-operated automatic doors; reprogramming building management systems (BMS) to manage indoor humidity levels to minimize the survival rate of viruses and white light disinfection LED technology could all provide solutions to help better identify infections and reduce spread. Building Automation and Control (BACS) tools might also extend to processing and analyzing data, like occupancy patterns to help with social distancing.

To support those employees who will be working from home, upgrades to existing tech infrastructure for seamless videoconferencing and digital collaboration; mentorship opportunities and talent development; as well as culture creation and reinforcement will need to be considered.

Structural and architectural modifications could include: wider office corridors to allow for one-way foot traffic; de-densification of open plan spaces and contrived and controlled demarcation of spaces and traffic flow.

The main focus of future office and work space design will be on function, with designers developing fit-for-purpose space designs. If the primary purpose of an organization’s space is to accommodate specific moments of collaboration rather than individual work, should the majority of the office real estate not be devoted to collaboration rooms? With an increase in the number of staff opting to work from home, should individual staff cubicles not be transformed into flexible hot desks?

Organizations could create workspaces specifically designed to support the kinds of interactions that cannot happen remotely. They can also consider a portfolio of space solutions, comprising of owned space, flex space, co-working space, and remote work that accommodates specific functions and groups of staff. Smaller high cost retail footprints and a move to more economical geographic locations with hubs to provide remote workers with opportunities to engage in person and reduce time and costs of commuting, could result in a number of economical and productivity benefits. Organisations can review and implement processes and practices that leverage the best of both in-person and remote work.

Regardless of exactly what your future office will look like, the aim of this reinvention will be what good companies have always wanted: a safe environment where people can enjoy their work, collaborate with their colleagues, and achieve the objectives of their organisations.

If you or your organisation need assistance with upgrading, revamping or re-evaluating your office needs and design, contact SSQ Design. 011 792 1241

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