Back in January no-one could have envisaged that we'd be spending our days two metres apart and wearing face masks. So profound has the impact of the coronavirus been that we have completely redefined the way we look at the space between and around us. And that includes the spaces in which we work.
The pandemic has caused a behavioural change that many believe will prove permanent. Places where we work have had to make efforts to adapt with co-working and flexible office spaces bearing the brunt of the change.
Observing the two metre rule needs to go beyond simply moving desks. Efforts to de-densify the office should look critically at the space as a whole, observing how people circulate and putting in place movement systems that eliminate bottlenecks and narrow passing places.
Remote work via Slack and Zoom has managed to capture some of the sense of collaboration and teamwork. The future workplace will need to create spaces where teams can come together face to face and digitally to bridge the gap between remote working and the office.
Personal space and safety
With 30% of employees now avoiding multi touch surfaces, concerns for personal and public safety have grown exponentially as the pandemic takes hold of the public imagination.
Workplaces will need to incorporate strategies as diverse as touchless technology and clear and precise communication protocols to promote a feeling of safety. Between desk screening and social distancing signage are likely to become the norm to deliver a feeling of safety and security for those in the workplace.
Mental health and wellbeing
The pandemic has created a unique stress load on employees who are having to cope with economic stress and anxiety caused by the pandemic as well as the normal stresses of daily working life. Factor in the isolation of working from home and the situation is taking its toll on the mental health and wellbeing of many workers.
Design strategies will need to address morale and employee wellness in ways that protect their health. Ways to connect including virtual meal sharing and quizzes have been trialled while places to rest and unwind in the workplace can help to cope with individual stress. Open plan offices often fail at balancing communal and private space, and offices will need to increase the number of quiet and private spaces alongside larger communal areas for group activities that observe social distancing rules.
Flexible working is the new normal
Flexible working is no longer a perk that employees can hope to be offered, but the new normal for safe working. That flexibility is critical for mental health and wellness and to reduce economic stresses including the cost of commuting.
For employers, the reduction in workspace may seem like a win but organisations will have their work cut out negotiating the demands of a workforce who want to feel safe and secure yet crave collaboration and socialisation. With hopes of a successful vaccine in the horizon, savvy employers will now be turning their attention to strategies for the future of co-working and flexible office space.