For the first time in a long time, design matters.
The pandemic trapped many of us in our houses, for both short and extended periods. Subsequently, we focused on making our home as comfortable and pleasing as possible. With the world so unstable and tumultuous – our homes become a safe, consistent place for work, family and self-care.
During this process, many of us had an unconscious shift in how we view work. Be it wearing comfy pants in zoom meetings or leaving a meeting early to drop kids at after school clubs, the lines between home and work became increasingly blurred. And without distractions, office chatter and corporate clinicality over 77% of us were found to be more productive when working from home.
Now that we are headed into the control stage of the pandemic, people are looking to bring their staff back into the office, albeit for only three to four days a week. However, employers are finding their staff hesitant, and often anxious to return to a face-to-face workplace. And after working at home for so long with immediate comforts, access to family and no long commuting, it’s unsurprising that people feel this way.
This is why for the first time in a long time, workplace design has to be smart, and human centric.
We know that to bring people back into the office there needs to be a positive internal culture, comradery with colleagues and flexible hours. But in conjunction with these, employees also require a workplace designed for them.
We have to coax people out of their homes and attract them back to the workplace. World class workers need a world class environment that offers them similar benefits and comforts to working from home.
The separation of private and collaborative spaces is a key feature to a strong physical workplace. Employees need to feel that they have a place to share ideas with their peers and also to retreat to complete work without distraction, much like their homes.
Within these private spaces, there should be ample natural lighting and quiet. Nothing is worse than harsh fluorescent lighting. It hurts your eyes and can actually cause fatigue-inducing glare. However, lighting can’t be so dim that it decreases productivity and causes sleepiness. So, the solution? Natural, ambient light that replaces the direct overhead glare of fluorescent strip lighting.
To further replicate our homes, workplaces need to adjust their traditionally sterile aesthetic for a softer, warmer environment. Natural materials, warm lighting and indoor plants are some simple ways to create this. Additionally, it should be easy for employees to move from between alternate spaces quickly, much like rooms in a home. Moving from a collaborative space to outdoor working pods to a relaxed lounging space keeps employees moving and creates choice in their day.
Additionally, many modern workplaces are pivoting to a more family friendly design. Creating a private space for mothers to breastfeed, rooms with games and drawing activities for young children or onsite employee childcare centres are just some of the techniques being utilised in the family friendly workplace.
Workplaces also need to begin to implement trust into their design. Having physical digital systems where employees ‘clock in’ creates a lack of autonomy and focuses on obligation instead of passion. Concrete time parameters have been found to decrease productivity, particularly after working from home, where hours were flexible and bosses had to place more trust into their employees.
These are just some of the many ways we can be smarter with office design and bring the comforts of home into the workplace. If businesses don’t incorporate this at some level, they will struggle to transition their employees to face-to-face and will see more and more people leave in choice of a more flexible workplace. Design matters, so now is the time to act.