There’s no question that COVID-19 has provoked change in the way we work, as well as how we will view and use “the office” in the long term. What this prolonged period of working remotely so far has taught us is that, while we can work from home, we are unlikely – as some have mistakenly suggested – to ever give up the office completely.
Connectivity issues, isolation from our colleagues and an inability to clearly separate our home and work life has made remote working a necessary but less than ideal reality for many of us over the past few weeks. Indeed, remote workforces are already beginning to report that they miss the structure and community of the office, with issues such as health and wellbeing coming to the fore during COVID-19. As a result, when we do return to work, employers should foster workplaces that offer the best of both worlds, from optimal connectivity and elements that promote wellbeing to design that encourages a sense of community
One clear outcome of the workforce’s sudden shift to remote working is a renewed appreciation for high-quality technology. From the time-sensitive email that won’t send to an important video call that won’t connect, we have all been at some point over recent weeks let down by poor technology. Such technological hiccups are not only a source of increasing frustration for workers struggling with broken lines of communication, but a major contributor to productivity dips, as well as spikes in work-related stress.
In response, the office we return to after COVID-19 will have to incorporate quality technology that fosters reliable communications channels, as well as enabling employees increasingly used to working remotely to be more footloose and flexible. Basic infrastructure such as modern AV amenities and a high-speed internet network, can help provide a more streamlined way of working that not only has a significant impact on productivity, but also prevents small tech frustrations from becoming a greater source of stress.
Spaces that introduce natural light, as well as outdoor areas, are likely to be viewed by employers as an important investment into workers’ wellbeing after COVID-19. Other options include specialised lighting that mimics natural light, while digital capabilities such as smart windows and sensor technology can help manage lighting and ventilation. While using the right lighting can reduce eye strain, using ergonomic furniture can reduce risk of physical issues. For example, the use of sit-stand desks and quality designed chairs can ensure healthier working for extended periods of time – a welcome change from sitting on a sofa or using an ironing board as a make-shift desk at home.
With employee wellbeing and physical health likely to be top of the agenda in the wake of the pandemic, we can expect these solutions to be commonplace in our future offices.
Unsurprisingly, uncertainty and anxiety have been major features of this global pandemic and as a result, mental and emotional health have emerged as workplace issues to which workers and employers are increasingly alert.
While many of the factors already mentioned, from increased connectivity to enhanced physical office elements, will have a significant impact on the mental wellbeing of staff, it will also be crucial for businesses to recognise the value of promoting an “emotionally intelligent” office. As a result, offices that incorporate quiet areas, social spaces and facilities, such as gyms will become standard, as employers look for simple steps to look after the mental wellbeing of their staff.
Having spent a great deal of time away from colleagues during COVID-19, many of us are realising that simple human connections and a positive sense of community are underappreciated elements of an office that affect our productivity, motivation and overall wellbeing. As a result, we should expect community to be at the heart of our post-COVID-19 offices.
In months to come, employers and office providers are likely to show an increasing preference for workspaces that feature open planned floors and break out areas that promote collaboration and socialisation. A straightforward way that businesses can help do this without redesigning the office entirely is by creating “collision points” such as centralising the printer, coffee machines and water fountains to encourage spontaneous social interactions between colleagues.
The office as we know it will no doubt change as a result of COVID-19. With workers increasingly realising the importance of high-quality technological infrastructure and valuing workspaces that promote physical health, mental wellbeing and a sense of community, employers and office providers will have to respond to deliver our post-pandemic offices of the future. Those that provide the best environments to reflect this changing need will no doubt reap the rewards of a happier and healthy workforce for the long term.