Office design – the way forward
The current global situation has led to speculation about the future of communal office space. People who have been forced to work from home have realized that there may be various benefits, such as reduced commuting time and cost of travel. And many business managers may now be considering the value and cost of the ‘central hub model’ and its relevance to their employees.
Working from home does, however, have a number of cons as well as pros. Many people do not have adequate ergonomically designed furniture to ensure physical well-being, and they may lack the technical expertise or resources needed for optimum work performance at home. For some, working remotely may engender feelings of isolation – and it may disrupt team cohesion. A well-designed communal office can enhance employee morale and retention, as well as boosting engagement and productivity.
It is clear that most employees are interested in flexibility regarding when and where they work. However, effective working often involves connecting the right people together at the right time. This can be more easily achieved – certainly in the early stages of working together – when team members are in the same physical environment. Creativity and innovation are more likely when individuals can readily spark off each other, and strong connections are established more speedily when working face-to-face. The collaboration, connectivity and interactions that a healthy working environment fosters are vital to the growth and success of a company.
In addition to the crucial issue of people dynamics, we should also consider the following:
- Which activities have to be carried out in the communal workplace?
- Which activities benefit from being carried out in the communal workplace?
- Which activities benefit from being carried out virtually?
- How many employees can be accommodated in the communal workspace (currently, this includes a requirement for social distancing)?
- How do we decide which employees most need to be in this workplace, rather than working from home?
- How can the workplace experience offer physical and mental well-being benefits that may counteract possible employee anxieties or concerns.
Many of us have now had direct experience of what can be achieved remotely, but there is no getting away from the fact that Zoom or Teams weariness can set in and, at times, we have all felt less connected than before. Furthermore, nuances in conversation or body language that will be apparent when in the same physical space may be missed on screen. Mentoring and developing less experienced employees is also easier when in the communal workplace than when working remotely.
The design of office space is likely to evolve more rapidly as conventional arrangements are challenged and working from home remains a core part of the mix. COEL has recently been working with Oxford PharmaGenesis, a HealthScience communications consultancy, to embrace this forward-looking way of working. This independent company sought to convert a large Georgian residential farmhouse into a new office and meeting facility. COEL has provided full construction work and interior design, including provision of all the furniture. The design team at COEL has cast a spell on this stunning building, preserving the original features that make it so appealing and ensuring that the styling has been sympathetic to the character of the building, resulting in a fresh and attractive working environment. By breathing life into an old family residence, COEL has created a fabulous new facility for Oxford PharmaGenesis employees and visitors to enjoy.
COEL has a track record in creating cost-effective and life-enriching working environments. Putting the needs of employees at the forefront is essential; it is also likely to result in boosted productivity and, ultimately, overheads may be lowered. In developing offices of the future, we need to be forward-thinking and willing to embrace change. Working practices are likely to become more flexible and there will be increased demand for ecologically sustainable solutions. We believe that the workplace will nevertheless remain a hub for many employees, where they will connect and interact, create and produce, learn, challenge and feel valued. Without a hub, it is harder for employees to feel a strong sense of belonging and for a company to foster the culture, flair and energy that make it a success.