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The evolution of offices for the future

The recent enforced changes in how we work as well as where we work raises questions as to how commercial office space will change in the future, writes Barnaby Clark, Sales and Marketing Director of office design and fit-out specialist, COEL.

A couple of things are evident: for some businesses working from home previously would not have been an option and yet the current lockdown will validate that many employees can work from home and indeed may prefer to.

Conversely, the deluge of those signing up to Zoom and other communicative technology proves the basic need for most to feel the connectivity and vitality of team dynamics.

These diverse themes compounded with the likely requirement to cut costs and safeguard employees from infection leads to the question of whether it is possible to create the ideal workplace for a changing world.

COEL recognises that the workplace can act as a facilitator for enhancing company culture and that employees flourish when their work environment is designed with their needs in mind.

With regards to ongoing costs, a thoughtful design respecting the requirements of the individuals and offering diversity in the methods of working will pay you dividends.

A few years ago, COEL undertook a major project for Bidwells following the firm’s ambitious plan for its headquarters in Trumpington to become the first truly agile refurbished building in Cambridge.

They wanted their staff to be rewarded on output and performance rather than traditional 9-5 attendance. Staff were given a Surface Pro laptop and a mobile phone each; giving them the option to work from home or from one of the many different work points.

In the year after the refurbishment was completed Bidwells found they had made incredible economic and ecological savings as well as having significant improvement in staff retention and wellbeing:-

  • Electricity costs per head in Bidwell House reduced by 27.5 per cent
  • Water costs per head reduced by 31 per cent
  • A reduced printing cost of 70 per cent
  • A reduced stationary cost of 38 per cent
  • Average employee satisfaction levels rose from 53 per cent in January 2018 to around 70 per cent from April 2018 after moving into the refurbished Bidwell House
  • Significantly employee sick days have reduced by 23 per cent since adopting an agile way of working

At present we are project managing a scheme to merge the three floors a company presently occupy into one floor. The consolidation process must be done sympathetically and with a commitment to ensure that the workplace is not compromised and that the employees requirements are fulfilled.

Whilst there are clear economic benefits for our client, COEL gives precedence to designing a workplace which builds community, inspires and motivates staff whilst also putting a spotlight on employee health.
Protecting employees’ health and wellbeing will be a prime concern now more than ever.

Home working has been a practical necessity in recent weeks however, the consequences of people feeling lonely and detached from others can result in a rise in mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.

The workplace is more than the place people go to to and do their job it is a forum which provides potential connection and collaboration with others, routine, purpose, and a sense of being part of a team.

These are basic human needs that need addressing and in order to do so we must use spaces differently, be flexible and adapt to a changing world. With the benefit of modern technology and products, COEL can provide solutions to concerns, some of which are the following:-

  • Provision of cycling racks to enable staff to cycle rather than get public transport
  • Automatic doors installed at the building entrance to limit contact with surfaces
  • For new building plans larger lift lobbies should be considered to enable fewer occupants on each lift trip
  • Ensure there is easy access to stairs, and with multiple staircases having each allocated as ‘up’ or ‘down’ only
  • Introduce ‘one directional’ routes around larger offices to help prevent frequent circulation crossovers when social distancing cannot be maintained
  • Flooring details that remind staff of 2m distancing
  • Signage details that provide reminders of expected distancing and protocols
  • Levy a practice of keeping desks clear and as a result easier to clean
  • Privacy screens can be set up to protect workspaces
  • It will also be crucial to use materials in the design of the workspace which have anti-bacterial qualities and are easy to clean and maintain – such as wipeable wallpaper, anti-bacterial carpets and ceiling tiles.

Office space should become more streamlined and areas eliminated where bacteria and viruses could linger. We would also recommend reviewing air conditioning systems that are in place and updating rest rooms to provide touch-free door access and ensure the provision of correct supply and extract ventilation.

It goes without saying that premises should provide hand sanitisers and hand washing facilities in obvious and accessible locations. Offices can also install touch free taps in the kitchens and bathrooms.

We suggest minimising the use of cupboards and instead have open units and shelves. Offices should ensure a regular cleaning rota and give staff access to antibacterial gel and sprays.

Importantly, companies should invest in smart technology – such as apps which can call for lifts and track occupancy for different areas of the building.

Plant wellbeing is another important consideration; by providing botanical displays employees benefit from the positive effects of being near nature and at the same time the plants will help purify the air.

COEL prioritises making working lives better and partnering with our clients to solve their workplace challenges. All businesses will be looking to invest in a sustainable future by safeguarding staff and at the same time meet their expectations of success.

The current climate offers new challenges which the COEL team will continue to meet and provide positive solutions to.

This article originally appeared on Business Weekly.

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