The future of office design (hybrid working).

THE OFFICE ISN’T DEAD: THE LIQUI VIEW ON THE FUTURE OF OFFICE DESIGN

Introduction

What is in store for the future of office design?

To prevent the spread of Covid-19, 2020 witnessed a dramatic shift in where and how we work. For many, working from home became a requirement, one that necessitated change in the home environment. People without a dedicated office space cammandeered their dining tables, kitchen worktops, sofas and bedrooms, creating makeshift places of work. Official UK figures show that homeworking rose from 5.7% of people working at home in January/February 2020, to 43.1% in April 2020, following the introduction of the first lockdown (Felstead & Reuschke, 2020).

Homeworking 

With a large-scale move to working from home, the very existence of the office as the default place of work has been called into question. In Liqui’s opinion, the office as an entity is not dead, however, it is reasonable to assume that a degree of homeworking is here to stay. Prior to the pandemic, there was already a gradual development in part-time working from home, a result of the increasing availability of tools that enable remote working, anytime and anywhere. The pandemic then acted as an accelerant, forcing a greater number of people to work in their place of residence. As many employees adapt to this new way of operating, a full-time return to the ‘9 to 5’ office will doubtless be unacceptable to some.

Since the World Health Organisation declared Covid-19 a pandemic, the world of work has been in turmoil. In the UK, the issue of homeworking has become something of a national discourse. Asked the question, ‘is remote working overhyped?’ Robin Dunbar, Emeritus Professor of Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford, offered three reasons on why it is: ‘First, the work place is a social environment and business in any form is a social phenomenon; Second… for young new graduates moving to an unfamiliar city on their first job… work is the only place they can find friends and arrange social events; Third, the digital world of Zoom and Skype is no substitute for face-to-face meetings… people find the virtual environment awkward… there is a very strict limit on the size of natural conversations at four people’ (BBC Worklife).

Hybrid Working

At Liqui, we understand that working from home has its advantages, including feeling trusted by an employer, having flexibility, and greater autonomy. In spite of the possible downsides, such as a degree of boredom and loneliness, many people will doubtless choose to work from home if that choice is available. At the same time, we believe that homeworking does not surpass the office and its role as a place of work. Consequently, it is likely that we will see (and are seeing) the development of a hybrid model: a mix of working from home and at a company’s office. The very act of having employees under one roof is important for several reasons, including: maintaining a company’s culture, feeling a part of something bigger, sparking creativity, and fostering collaboration. Humans are social beings. Covid-19 has had a detrimental effect on the way in which we interact and communicate. The sudden growth in homeworking has taken a toll on mental health. People have reported that they are less able to concentrate, have greater difficulties in enjoying daily activities, feel constantly under strain, and are unhappy or depressed (Felstead & Reuschke, 2020).

We must think about the ways in which the office can adapt in order to maintain collaboration and exchanges with and between colleagues. Moreover, it is important to remember the value of those serendipitous and spontaneous encounters. While there is the need to maintain a physical distance (at least in the short-term), office design should continue to foster a sense of belonging. In many cases, the office is the embodiment of a company, and the place where employees come together. It provides a physical and psychological boundary between work and home life.

The future of workplace design

For Liqui, there are two key areas of focus in the future of workplace design: flexible working and wellness. Any changes will most likely be modest in scale—an evolution of what has already taken place in offices during the last decade.

Flexible working

With a flexible working arrangement, the employee might perform any focused work at home, and use the office for collective projects and meetings. Therefore, the office will become more of a collaborative hub, with employees no longer tethered to their desks. Hot-desking will find a renewed impetus, and employees will reserve a desk by using an app-based system—deep cleaning of desks and chairs, at least in the short-term, will be essential. Employees will have personal, movable storage pedestals for their belongings. The office will include a range of casual spaces that enhance creativity and cross-departmental collaboration. Smaller spaces will be used for videoconferencing and as audio privacy rooms.

It is important to address any feeling of impermanence in the flexible office space, offering employees security and warmth. At Liqui, we very much embrace the idea of the ‘coffice’, a portmanteau word combining coffee and office. Essentially, there are three types of spaces: home, work, and a third space. This third space is usually a coffee shop, a place in which to drink coffee and work. With technology, we have seen an increase in people choosing to work from a coffee shop. As a consequence, the line between the office and third space is becoming increasingly blurred. We believe this should be embraced. Instead of the sterile and rigid office of old, a flexible office will have more of a coffee shop feel. This will place an emphasis on employee well-being, on collaborative working, productivity, and staff retention.

Wellness

To an increasing extent, we live in an informed society. We are alert to the things that can affect our health and well-being. More and more, employees expect to find—and employers are keen to offer—choice and flexibility in their place of work, with a focus on wellness. Covid has exacerbated mental health concerns, increasing anxiety for many of us. Owing to a range of factors (including a predisposition to obsessive-compulsive behaviours, painful life experiences, and unemployment or loss of income), long-term mental health issues connected to Covid-19 are likely to include: obsessive-compulsive disorder, general anxiety, loneliness, stress, and depression (Savage, 2020). Employers cannot overlook these issues, and workplace designers must ensure they are embraced as part of any office design.

Our physical environment has a significant impact on our mental health and well-being. In the case of work, office design must place wellness at its core. Flexibility is key and can be delivered with a choice of work-based settings, from the home to the ‘coffice’. What’s more, the inclusion of well-designed furniture, acoustics, and lighting, and the addition of greenery, will help bolster employee well-being.

In conclusion

For Liqui, the future of workplace design is about stressing the importance of flexible working, wellness, and the office as a collaborative hub. We know the office is not dead. In fact, we believe the office will be more alive than ever, and its design much more human-centred.

The podcast

‘Because things can be different’ with Liqui Group, is a new podcast that explores ideas on contemporary business, retail, and design. The latest episode is titled ‘The Future of Office Design in a COVID era’.

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More Information

For more information on the article, please see it on Archiproducts.

References

BBC Worklife. (2020). ‘Coronavirus: How the world of work may change forever.’ [online] Available at: https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20201023-coronavirus-how-will-the-pandemic-change-the-way-we-work

Felstead, A and Reuschke, D (2020). ‘Homeworking in the UK: before and during the 2020 lockdown’, WISERD Report, Cardiff: Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research. [online] Available at: https://wiserd.ac.uk/publications/homeworking-uk-and-during-2020-lockdown

Savage, M (2020). ‘Coronavirus: The possible long-term mental health impacts.’ [online] Available at: https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20201021-coronavirus-the-possible-long-term-mental-health-impacts

The future of office design in a COVID era – BTCBD Podcast – Episode 5.

What does the future hold for Office design during COVID?

 

‘Because Things Can Be Different’ with Liqui Group – A podcast show that discusses all things business and design.

Join our hosts from Liqui Group Ltd, as they discuss the world of Branding, Interior Design, and Business, providing listeners with some all-important insight into these powerful business essentials.

Episode 5: The future of Office design in a COVID era.

2021 has arrived, and so has the 5th episode of “Because Things Can Be Different”.

In this episode, Liqui Group Creative Director Cameron Fry and Design Manager Oliver Underwood, discuss the future of Office design and offer some insight into what to consider during this COVID era.  They cover what has changed since the pandemic started, and how the office space, in general, is still here and evolving, looking at what to consider when starting, or returning, to an office-based business. 

Long live the office, oh how we miss it!

 

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Designing for wellness.

WORKPLACE WELLNESS DESIGN

DESIGNING WORKPLACES THAT IMPROVE AND PROMOTE MENTAL HEALTH AND WELLNESS

 

At Liqui, we value simple, honest and functional design, made using sustainable materials and combining traditional craftsmanship with modern innovation. We take a person-centred approach to our work and know that design has the power to impact an individual’s health and well-being. For this reason, we seek to promote personal health and wellness throughout our many projects.

 

Promoting workplace mental health and wellness

Today’s modern age of new media coupled with the ubiquity of technology is fundamentally changing how we live, socialise and work. As informed individuals, we are increasingly alert to factors that can impact our health and well-being: for example, a growing number of employees expect more choice and flexibility at their place of work. Conventional workplace wisdom, that which promotes a staid office environment with employees tethered to their desks, is, in many instances, no longer accepted practice. By contrast, a cadre of progressively minded employers and employees prefer to think of the workplace as adaptable, dynamic and fresh, one that promotes personal health and wellness.

In the UK, an estimated 137.3 million working days were lost due to sickness or injury in 2016.1 Among those reasons cited, mental health issues (including stress, depression and anxiety), resulted in 15.8 million days lost 1: indeed, stress and mental ill health are among the most common causes of both short-term and long-term workplace absenteeism.2 In a 2017 ‘Mental Health at Work Report’, it was found that 60 percent of employees have experienced a mental health issue as a direct consequence of work.3

Mental health, and wellness more generally, are affected by our physical surroundings. When designing office spaces, at Liqui we understand that wellness should be at the core of each and every design. Our aim is to encourage a better state of physical, mental and social well-being for employees, so bolstering staff retention, productivity, creativity and happiness levels. We are cognisant of wellness research and guidance, and strive to incorporate findings into our thinking on office design. One noteworthy point of reference is the WELL Building Standard™ (WELL). Launched in October 2014, WELL is a leading benchmark on implementing, validating and measuring the features that support and promote health and wellness when designing and building office spaces.4 Delivered by the International WELL Building Institute™, WELL establishes evidence-based requirements centred on a number of features: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind. At its core, ‘[if] WELL can enable a healthier, more engaged and more productive workforce, there will be financial benefits [for organisations].’5

Whether it’s by adopting a standard such as WELL or implementing in-house wellness initiatives, increasing numbers of organisations are embracing the need for a genuine focus on employee health and well-being. At Liqui, we recognise that priorities include addressing requirements around space, such as choice and collaboration, and environmental concerns, from light and sound to workplace experiences.

Workplace Wellness - Liqui Group Interior for an Office Concept Workplace Wellness - Liqui Group Interior for an Office Concept

 

Space: choice and collaboration

In workplace design, we believe variety is key. The space should accommodate an array of working preferences and furnishings, and provide a choice of work-based settings, including: small desks for solo working, larger tables for team projects, breakout spaces for informal catch-ups, private spaces for formal meetings, quiet places for concentration, and lounge areas to enjoy a coffee and chat. People can move around, choosing to work in the space ideally suited to their needs, and at the same time retaining a personal desk as a base. While a desk might remain the focal point of an individual’s work, having a choice of workspace environments encourages collaboration across teams. Moreover, by promoting movement and creating a less sedentary way of working, a choice of workspaces will promote an employee’s mental health and overall well-being.

Fashion retail giant Primark recruited Liqui to design its London-based press office. We created a welcoming and well organised space, with a bright and airy aspect. With the office acting as an everyday workplace and PR venue, we incorporated a range of storage and display options (for clothing and accessories), different seating arrangements, a dedicated meeting room and a reception whose counter functions as a mobile bar unit.

 

Environment: light, sound and experience

The office environment has a direct impact on wellbeing, productivity, absenteeism and staff retention. A significant environmental factor is light, especially natural light. When designing an office, at Liqui we understand the importance of encouraging the spread of natural light throughout the space—incorporating glass walls when creating meeting rooms for example, is one technique. When choosing artificial lights, it is beneficial to think about their placement (as a direct or indirect lighting source), workability, utility and aesthetic appeal. Workplace acoustics should also be considered. A noisy environment is one of the main contributing factors to high levels of stress and increased heart rates. It is possible to dampen noise levels with mechanisms that include acoustic ceiling installations and acoustic light fittings.

Liqui worked with the London-based Allegra Group to create an office that emphasises versatility and functionality. We divided the office into a number of areas, using open slatted wooden dividers to maintain a sense of flow. This clever application of dividers ensures the workspace maintains an airy and spacious mien.

From an experiential viewpoint, it is necessary to reduce the anxiety that might be caused by working in large areas. This result can be achieved by making a large area appear smaller, utilising design-led space partitions in a manner that does not hinder collaboration between colleagues and teams. Where an office has a considerable ceiling height, this can be lowered by using structural installations. Furthermore, embracing positive colour choices and incorporating natural materials, including wood, stone and textiles, will have a positive effect on anxiety levels.

In Allegra’s office, Liqui added greenery throughout the space, keeping wellness in the workplace firmly in mind.

Another experiential component is the use of greenery in the workplace. Plants are known to make a positive contribution to our physical environment: they reduce the levels of certain pollutants, purify the air, improve mood and boost concentration. With plants—and nature generally—people tend to feel happier and healthier. According to the theory of ‘biophilia’, humans have an innate tendency to seek connections with nature.6 We understand implicitly that nature enhances well-being; ergo, adding plants throughout an office will work wonders for the mind and body. If a company has an outdoor space, creating an environment which is conducive to working and socialising outside, from open air meetings to al fresco lunches, will further benefit productivity, creativity and well-being.

 

In conclusion

By combining a focus on both space and environmental factors, at Liqui we know it is possible to create workplaces that positively impact an employee’s mental health and well-being. With increased levels of collaboration and productivity, the result is one that greatly benefits both the employee and the company.

 

References 

  1. ONsgov.uk. (2017). Sickness absence in the UK labour market: 2016. [online] Available at: https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/labourproductivity/articles/sicknessabsenceinthelabourmarket/2016 [Accessed 19 Feb. 2019].
  2. CIPD (2018). Health and Well-being at Work.
  3. bitc.org.uk. (2017). Mental Health at Work Report 2017. [online] Available at: https://wellbeing.bitc.org.uk/system/files/research/bitcmental_health_at_work_report-2017.pdf [Accessed 19 Feb. 2019].
  4. International WELL Building Institute. (2019). About. [online] Available at: https://wellcertified.com/about-iwbi [Accessed 21 Feb. 2019].
  5. com. (2017). Joyce Chan on the WELL Building Standard – onoffice magazine. [online] Available at:https://www.onofficemagazine.com/people/item/5161-building-in-health-by-stealth-joyce-chan-on-the- well-building-standard [Accessed 21 Feb. 2019].
  6. Encyclopedia Britannica. (2017). Biophilia hypothesis. [online] Available at:https://britannica.com/science/biophilia-hypothesis [Accessed 20 Feb. 2019].

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