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Office Design & Coronavirus – The beginning of a New Office Design Trend?

In the current Coronavirus pandemic, we’ve seen arguments breakout on Twitter about how suitable open-plan offices are, with predictions that COVID-19 will offer “a blank page for a new beginning”. With all this discussion about how to contain a virus, is a new office design trend on the way? We’ve already seen large open plan offices start to filter off with the likes of pods and quiet working booths, is the cellular office coming back? Or are we all destined to work at home?

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I think it should be taken into consideration that the Coronavirus outbreak is not a normal event. All the office design development throughout the years has been evolving new working ways of working and increasing people’s wellbeing.

– Ilda Pinote, Flexiform Space Planner.

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The Government’s current advice is to work from home where possible, which as trend forecaster Li Edelkoort and those online suggests, has many benefits including increased staff wellbeing, creating new home working set up’s, and lowering pollution levels. In addition, a recent US study has found remote workers are 29% happier in their jobs than on-site workers. But is mass-scale remote working suitable to continue post Coronavirus? Remote working can be great for productivity and can offer a private space to concentrate, but for others, it’s isolating, boring and unstimulating. While our own staff has been working from home during the outbreak, we’ve explored the pros and cons that each of us are experiencing, and can appreciate the balance of both remote working and office working. 

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I’m very productive working from home, but it shouldn’t replace face-to-face interactions with my colleagues. If I was working remotely every day, I’d struggle to maintain a home-life and work-life balance.

– Nadia Al-Chalaby, Flexiform Interior Designer.

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Open-plan offices and remote working should co-exist, where workers benefit from both environments. A combination of staff working at home, and staff in the office, reduce the number of people occupying a workspace at one time, creating healthier air circulation and reducing the need for artificial air conditioning. This can make a happier working environment for staff both mentally and physically. Additionally, when remote working staff are in the office, they are more collaborative with their peers, undertaking more meetings and utilising the different agile working areas.

A mixture of remote working and office collaboration spaces will always be needed in larger-scale companies as they don’t have the physical space to house all employees. Some workshops, brainstorming sessions, and client meetings are best in person as human interaction is key to help build and maintain rapport. Whilst project work, reviews, and solo tasks will be better to be undertaken in an environment in which the employee feels most comfortable, whether at home, or a quieter part of open-plan offices. A healthy mind and a happy body means higher productivity and job satisfaction. It’s all about flexibility, and productivity. There is no evidence to back up that staff loses company loyalty when working from home, employers (wrongly) feel that this is the case and begrudge allowing workers this flexibility. Hopefully, we will see a rise in productivity, staff innovation, and creativity through remote working. When looking at how to migrate back to an office working pattern after Covid-19, a flexible option to work from home and the office should be considered to maintain the new levels of productivity that have been reached.

Working from Home

But do open-plan offices contribute to the spread of viruses? Clear communication on sick policies, thorough cleaners with clear instructions, and good access to anti-bacterial wipes in communal and collaboration areas will all minimise the risk of spreading viruses and germs. These are not only valid within a global pandemic, but are good policies to have set up generally. The installation of bins to implement the NHS’s “Catch it, Bin it, Kill it”,  and anti-bacterial lockers are also a great addition.  However, it’s not necessarily open-plan offices that are all to blame, but how companies approach dealing with the virus and the threat to a reduced workforce. 

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Sending employees to highly-infected countries to conduct business meetings puts people at risk. If they met in an open-plan environment or not, it would still have spread the virus. A change in company policy is needed, and how they approach the issue.

– Nadia Al-Chalaby, Flexiform Interior Designer.

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In a study by Harvard Business School and Boston Consulting Group, it was said only 30% of companies are prepared for remote working. A quick response is vital, having the right policies and resources in place to access online IT systems help, not only protects staff but helps them continue their operations as close to normal as possible.  

After much debate and research we believe, for now, the open-plan office is here to stay post Covid-19. A combination of remote working and open-plan offices should help increase wellbeing, staff productivity, and collaboration.