After almost two years of disruption, the world has realized that running a workplace can’t be business as usual.
As organizations plan for reopening their spaces, employers are using the opportunity to make their environments safer, warmer, more collaborative and flexible. Here are a few ways to refresh your office design.
Of course, no two workplaces are the same: different sized organizations are going to have different needs. But form usually follows function.
“Step one, invite people in to declutter,” says Debbie Rogers from Staples Professional, Sales and Strategy Training – Furniture, Technology, Print and Promo. “We left spaces quickly and left many things behind. Ask yourself — if I didn’t need it for 18 months do I need it now?”
Make it flexible
The same consideration put into tidying up desks and supply rooms should also be given to how we use space. A big movement in workplace design is making spaces more flexible and collaborative by doing away with closed offices dedicated to one specific employee. Companies such as McKinney, The Basement, and Pladis have all eliminated personal offices. Space has value, and an office occupied by a manager who is on the road 80 percent of the time doesn’t make much sense.
“Why should space be tied to title rather than requirement and function?” asks Rogers. Instead, many leaders are pivoting toward sign-up systems predicated on need over ownership. For example, if you are working on a project that requires heads-down concentration, you can book a meeting room even if you aren’t having a meeting.
P&G, Deloitte and Salesforce have all adopted a hotel-like work environment, some even before the pandemic. By 2021, Salesforce re-opened 26 offices under its “Success from Anywhere” return-to-work model. Using this model — developed from learnings that the company gained while its employees worked from home in 2020 — these new offices utilize more collaborative spaces like lounges and conference rooms and less desk space. In doing so, Salesforce has reinforced the idea that the office is ultimately a place for human connection.
Moving forward, creating both Team and Community spaces will help your organization foster that social connection and the company culture. When it comes to trends in developing these spaces, Rogers says we’ll begin to see a lot more with a “resimercial” (residential meets commercial) feel, incorporating furnishings like couches, open shelving, rugs, floor lamps and framed artwork. A Team or Community space also provides organizations will a great opportunity to incorporate elements that embody their company culture. Think: displaying team mottos, bringing in your organization’s colours into the space, or having the design represent the demographics of your employees.
Workplace safety must be acknowledged, but the way people are approaching safety has changed. “It took [the circumstances of] 2021 to figure out how to prepare the work environment,” says Rogers. We have learned that people can work productively out of the office if they are travelling, sick, or even stuck at home during a snowstorm, and an updated office design should reflect that.
In any design plan, there should be an emphasis on ensuring that teams can work remotely. One trend that doesn’t cost a fortune is installing wall-mounted monitors throughout the office space so that teams don’t have to relocate to a conference room to have an impromptu conversation with a remote co-worker.
Another aspect to take into consideration is psychological safety. “Going back to the office, you’ll want to ensure your employees have choice, giving them the ability to work where they feel safe and in their own style,” says Rogers. Organizations can do this by not only creating solo spaces, but casual meeting spots where employees can migrate their impromptu meetings to. Here, you’ll want to include a slimmer-profile table and a minimum of two comfortable seats.
We’re all looking for different reasons to go back to the office. Even people who enjoy working from home most of the time, says Rogers, still seek the connection with their colleagues.
Social distancing will continue to be a best practice for the foreseeable future, but there are plenty of other ways to build community without having an in-office ping-pong table. Toronto-based stylist and content producer Lynda Felton predicts that plants will make a big impact as we return to the office. “We know plants make people happy, but did you know that they also help reduce stress, boost creativity and production,” says Felton.
Taking care of living things gives co-workers a sense of ownership, which in turn makes the space feel warmer and more inviting.
Rogers agrees that biophilic design — a concept used in industrial design to connect people to nature in modern spaces — will play a huge role in the return to office. In addition to plants, there are other ways to bring in nature, says Rogers, such as increasing the amount of natural light that comes into the space and incorporating colours like green, light blue and brown. Want to take it a step further? Try including sustainable materials such as cork, wicker, bamboo or environmentally certified wood into your space.
Low maintenance, high reward
Because workplace safety is at the heart of every design decision, when it comes to furniture, says Rogers, being able to clean it well is important. If you are doing a makeover, consider purchasing furnishings made from low-maintenance materials. Again, consider decluttering so that surfaces can be easily cleaned.
“You don’t have to throw out everything,” says Rogers, for example, upholstered seating areas could be recovered with bleach cleanable textiles.
Overall, a streamlined space is safer, simpler and stylish in the new world of work.