At the beginning of the pandemic, lockdown restrictions prevented most of the UK workforce from commuting or working in shared office environments. Businesses had to suddenly change their operations, including how and where jobs were carried out. When restrictions eased, companies then had the added challenge of adapting communal spaces and creating socially distanced workstations to enable staff to return to work safely.
Businesses that had not permanently stopped trading had to shift to remote working; a concept that many companies had not even considered before. This has resulted in some long-lasting changes in behaviour and working life.
In October 2020, out of the businesses that had not permanently stopped trading, 25% had more staff working from home (ONS). 17% of those businesses intend to use increased home working as a permanent business model in the future as they had seen significant improvements in staff well-being, productivity and reduced overheads.
So, what impact will this on construction industry? Beyond essential alterations to ensure workplaces are COVID-19 safe, these dramatic behavioural shifts could see some profound changes to the future of office design. Director, Martin Cox talks about this in more detail:
Distributed offices and rotating days
Whilst many businesses may end up repurposing office space to separate teams, cellular office plans have limited benefits for workplace culture and communication. For some companies, the move to distributed offices may be a better alternative.
Firms with a large headquarters in a city may find a distributed set of smaller offices located closer to employees reduces exposure to COVID-19. Having small teams working collaboratively would address the need for connections, but with a reduce risk to catching the virus.
In the short-term it seems likely many will continue working from home even after restrictions are lifted. A staggard workforce may become the new normal with small groups coming into the office on alternate days.
Flexible spaces and smaller offices
As more businesses scale back or pause big office moves, we will probably see more companies adapt what they already have. Besides from making buildings compliant with government guidelines, the ongoing containment measures will influence the design and layout of our workspaces.
It is likely offices will introduce more flexible spaces, allowing employees to ‘hot desk’ and offer more agile working environments. We could also see ‘open office environments’ split into single use areas such as floors dedicated to specific departments and reduced desk space. The realisation that companies can make do with remote working will only accelerate a need for more flexible office space with lots of services.
However, home working has revealed its limitations, without face-to-face interaction, collaboration and communication can suffer. If flexible working becomes common practice, the office could end up becoming a vital anchor for maintaining the company’s culture and success.
Home working is likely to persist even after the pandemic ends and its unlikely businesses will want to go back to the way things were done. This has immediate implications on office space and requirements.
We could see a greater focus on providing a space with a purpose to justify the existence of an office, especially if people continue to be the driver of change. Workplaces could see more home comforts imported into the office environment and ‘hotelisation’ incorporated in design solutions.
Materials in offices may be similar to those used in a clinical environment
It is likely the pandemic could usher in a new type of office – one that has similar features as a hospital. This is already starting to happen with some businesses who are choosing materials that can withstand heavy cleaning. Some are even avoiding porous surfaces likely wood and opting for laminates or stone.
Durable materials are not necessarily more expensive, but they can impact the visual athletics of an office if not applied correctly. To ensure a room doesn’t end up feeling too clinical, companies should consider using materials that can easily blend into the design.
Businesses may also look at upgrading their air filtration system and ensure rooms are properly ventilated. Sinks or hand sanitisation stations could also become a common feature in the office as well as ‘point solutions’ such as touchless interfaces.
A clear result of the workforce shifts to remote working has been a renewed appreciation of high-quality technology. Many of us have experienced challenges in working remotely, particularly with technical hiccups – from videos calls that won’t connect to time-sensitive emails that won’t send.
As a result, companies have had to rethink how they keep teams connected and how productivity is managed. Home working is likely to stay, so the offices we return to need to cater for more reliable communication channels.
COVID has only accelerated the adoption of smart technology, which also has the added benefit of managing energy waste and reducing operational inefficiencies. Consequently, retrofitting offices to include these technologies can lead to long-term benefits that outlasts the pandemic.
Office refurbishment or relocate?
There can be lots of reasons to opt for an office refurbishment, from making better use of existing space, to improving employee health and safety. Beyond this, office refurbishments can form an important part of a wider business strategy to reinforce company brand and culture.
The pandemic has encouraged a lot of businesses to rethink their office strategy. Whether it’s in response to becoming COVID-19 compliant or part of a long-term plan to reduce costs, office refurbishment or relocation could be two choices underpinning your office strategy right now.
If you are planning on a refurbishment, then it is important you ensure the space is effectively used and you are not increasing your overheads in the longer term. Consider business growth and changing needs, especially over these next couple of years.
Companies that have found the shift to remote working may find relocating to a smaller office a better fit that undertaking a refurbishment project. However, this can involve some challenges such as finding the right premises and adapting the company culture to new ways of working.
Nevertheless, relocating to a smaller premise can offer costs savings with the lower overheads of a smaller office. Finance and leasing options are also available for those companies that wish to spread the cost of an office fit out. There are tax advantages to doing this, which many companies may choose to benefit from.
The choice between refurbishment or relocation will depend on what your goals are and whether it would benefit your company culture.
The requirements for offices are continuing to change and if landlords are to remain competitive, they will need to consider the services available in a building. Office space will need to both help tenants be more productive and support remote workers.
Companies should look beyond just making a building COVID-19 safe, to creating an environment that fosters a culture of collaborative working and community. Consider the technology in your building and if it meets your current needs. If you are looking at making upgrades, now might the time to move over to smart technology and simultaneously reduce your energy waste.