United House, Notting Hill: the latest offering from The Office Group
TOG’s Head of Design Nasim Köerting tells Mix about the 40th space from the flexible workspace providers.
The last in our series looking at how the current crisis will affect the commercial interiors (and wider) world, we’ve asked a number of leading end users and workplace experts to offer their opinions on where we’re likely to find ourselves post-COVID.
The most interesting thing to me is what the pandemic will mean for the physical workspace – we all crave that day-to-day interaction, and speaking as an architect, the creative spark that comes from collaboration. Collaboration not just with colleagues, but also with the client and the wider consultant teams and, not least, the physical analysis and interpretation of each individual space and place.
The physical office, in my mind, is far from dead – but we will need to think in a more objective way about the types of spaces; the furniture; the common parts that we bring into and utilise in office spaces.
The BCO’s recent paper, ‘Thoughts on office design and operation after COVID-19’, provides guidelines on how the office may change, and how we can get back to work. It describes how furniture in communal areas will need to be rearranged in order to accommodate social distancing; meeting rooms will be capped with maximum occupancy limits; receptionists could have protective screens; and communal amenities like coffee machines and cutlery will have to be removed for the time being.
We may actually see a big change in office toilets, with workplaces introducing ‘superloos’, sets of individual pods that feature fully touchless devices.
The BCO is, rightly, leading the debate around the post-COVID workplace, and is offering some really vital insight from the technical affairs and research committees – as well as from its wider network. The full piece of research can be accessed here.
As organisations ponder an eventual return to their furloughed offices, seeking cost reduction and resilience, their people are looking for the opposite – personal space and safety. There is an increasing divergence of need.
In response, many are trying to predict the future of the office, but the real challenge is to create it. Of course, it could go either way – back to the old world of daily commuting and whingeing about open plan and noise, or to a new world of responsible and responsive people-centred balance and flexibility.
What does that look like? Imagine a significantly reduced estate size but one buzzing with life, teams collaborating and innovating – rather than rows of lost souls with headphones on wishing they were elsewhere; people working locally when they need, and at the workplace when they know their colleagues will be there – rather than hoping it will happen on the off chance; and workplace scheduled with intelligent software able to respond to change in under a minute. A shared aim – and possible today.
This situation provides us with an incredible opportunity to do better than we have ever done. We can’t waste it.
I think COVID-19 is forcing leaders to re-define work. More people will recognise work as what you do rather than where you do it. During the early stages of the lockdown, many conversations on post-COVID office re-occupation involved the term ‘Return to Work’. Whilst this term was relevant for furloughed colleagues, to most people work never ceased and so some took offence at the idea that their leaders were preparing for a return to work. COVID has made remote working laggards speed up adoption and, in the new normal, travelling to the office is likely to become optional, with teams only going in for specific reasons such as workshops etc.
Whilst social distancing rules now make face-to-face collaboration almost impossible, technology enabled alternatives will receive more attention. The space per person allocation will likely increase considerably – we could see companies searching for social distance friendly design solutions. Enhanced office hygiene standards will become more prominent in any workplace design discussions. We’ll probably see sanitisation products or dispensers being incorporated into furniture design to make them aesthetically pleasing, in addition to nudging employees’ behaviour.
The workplace will still be the place we want to go to collaborate, innovate, socialise, banter etc. We are social beings and need to interact with others for a sense of fulfilment. Many may want to go back to the office now – what they’re less keen on is how they will get there. For this reason, unless there is a quick resolution to the pandemic, just how often we’ll head into our hubs is what will change. In the short-, and possibly mid-term, this will be relatively low. During this time, HR, OD and culture leads will work on what the best mix will be for their organisations. There’s generally always been a mix – the outcome from this is that weightings will differ. Working from home is possible; you can be trusted and be productive – even more so when the kids are back at school. Will these spaces become the focused areas we so long for?
The considerations for workplace professionals will be harnessing the link between the physical (office) space and the digital (home) space. Will companies invest in both equally so the two are different, but not vastly so? The trend to work from home may well continue into the long-term, to the point where office set-ups at home are invested in by companies so they progress from ironing boards, kitchen tables and toy boxes that are the current task furniture of choice for many.
Fora has redefined flexible working. If you have an image of high density, crowded workspaces, this couldn’t be further from the tranquillity and spaciousness of Fora, so we are naturally in a better position to operate than many others in the sector. That being said, measures must be implemented to ensure we are keeping our residents and team safe. As published in our New Standard document, a number of initiatives we are implementing are as follows:
Fora is using thermal imaging cameras in all its locations to check the temperature of residents and guests when they enter the buildings.
The communal areas and ground floor lobbies have bespoke, creative signage to assist with physical distancing.
Fora has introduced a series of workshops with Champs, to offer practical, positively framed activities that will give our residents the tools to thrive during this time and beyond. The workshops will provide advice and insights to ensure that their businesses culture is inclusive and that every employee feels they are returning to a supportive and caring environment.
A specially commissioned Frea Buckler ‘Rainbow’ artwork, entitled ‘Onwards’, will feature in our main front windows.
Our popular programme of curated events will continue. These are a central part of what makes Fora a dynamic and inspirational place to work. To assist with the need for social interaction, Fora will be live streaming events across our network. We have updated our services to encompass live streaming, enabling an audience reach of up to 1,000.
Illustrations by Antonio Rodriguez.
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