One thing most companies have in common this year is a need to evaluate and reimagine their workplace environments. With COVID as the catalyst, safety precautions, office size, technology incorporation and designing for culture and function will usher in new norms, come 2021.
It is clear through the many surveys dealing with remote work in 2020 that there is no one-size fits all approach. Many workers have embraced working from home and enjoy the lack of commute and the ability to flex time to exercise or deal with life. Others cite longer work hours with no separation between work and home or too many challenges with other family members in the house and they look forward to a return to the office.
Statistics from the upcoming Upwork Future Workforce Report, note that 20% of respondents had a fully-remote team during the peak Pandemic timeframe, along with 56% to 74% managing a partially remote team. What that means however, is that 80% of our workforce is at their workplace all or some of the time and that number will likely grow in 2021.
Numerous large corporations have announced that they will not re-open their offices until mid-2021, but that means they will spend the next 6-9 months preparing for that return.
For the long-term thinkers and savvy planners, office space renovations will combine innovation and flexibility for the most efficient use of space in the future. For some, this may mean small adjustments around the office and for others, this may mean a total reset.
Space and Infrastructure
Anyone who is looking at new space or lease expiration is looking at significant redesign. Finding the right amount of space not only for staff, but also for clients visiting will be key. While some companies may need to reduce space due to downsizing and work from home policies, others may need to increase. The same amount of people may need more space to accommodate social distance policies.
Some employees are looking for critical changes to the basic infrastructure and attending to those changes will reduce further modifications in the future. These could include customizable private or semi-private offices, less enclosed meeting spaces and pod-like areas to maintain consistent groups. Since hand-washing is one of the most important measures currently and sinks are usually relegated to bathroom areas, additional water stations may be a space consideration.
As simple habits such as hand-washing and disinfecting surfaces become daily routines, it was inevitable that forward-thinkers would begin to introduce more technological offerings to add to the mix.
Ultraviolet-C (UVC) light devices have been a hot topic since COVID hit. Once used primarily in hospitals, food manufacturing and other commercial environments, there are now thousands of products in this category available to the general public. While they can be effective, care needs to be taken on the device selection and when and where it is to be used.
Taking UV light a step further, research is ongoing regarding the effectiveness of new products that combine UV technology with ceiling fans to kill a room’s airborne pathogens in a matter of minutes. That may be new technology, but on a basic level, everyone from corporations to schools are reviewing their ventilation systems and evaluating where improvements can be made in the air quality. Modifications and upgrades can include air purifiers, air-conditioners and fans - and these need to be integrated with thought to efficiency and design.
Anti-microbial materials were certainly on the radar pre-COVID, but are now being considered for frequently touched surfaces everywhere from door handles to touchscreens. These materials not only kill bacteria, but inhibit the ability of microorganisms to grow on that surface.
Touch-free technology is of course even more effective than cleaning surfaces and there are many areas of a workplace where this can be incorporated. From kiosks and screen interfaces to sensor-fitted doors and elevators, the opportunity is there to reduce touchpoints.
Design and Culture
“Our team is constantly looking for design solutions to meet current and future needs. Ultimately, we are still designers, so we want to blend necessity with style, creativity with research and innovation with forethought,” noted Casey Baron, Creative Director.
This opportunity to rethink the workspace is not just a call for safety measurements. Employees were abruptly asked to change everything about their work patterns and it took some adjustment to work from home. It will again take time to transition back to the office, whether it is full-time or with a flexible schedule. Making space conducive to employee comfort and productivity is on par with making a positive impact on visitors to the space.
“Throughout time, the most successful brands have experienced an evolving culture. Reimagining your business environments now, illustrates leadership and vision for communicating to all parties,” states CEO Matt Williams. “We’re seeking partnerships who will pioneer their brands through these adverse times. The wait and see approach is not our game.”
Like any EP design project, clients seeking to reconsider their office space will benefit from detailed project management and conscientious budget conversations. 2020 has been eye-opening all around and the EP team is ready for what is to come in 2021.
For more information on work environment design, including Evolve & Return, our back to office playbook, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.