2020 has marked a considerable change in the way the working population goes about their day. With a second lockdown now under our belts, and with fewer employees in the office than ever before, how will this alter the future of workplace design? Michael Simpson, Associate and Workplace Consultant at GT3 Architects, investigates.
Whilst I don’t think we are seeing “the death of the office” as many are questioning, I do think it’s the death of the workstation as we know it. In my opinion, COVID-19 has accelerated us along our existing trajectory. People now realise that individual, focused tasks can be best accomplished away from the office buzz, and we’re seeing a concerted move away from desk-centric workplaces, to ones that facilitate collaboration, learning and support.
This critical shift allows us to move away from a sea of individual desks to a more ‘landscaped’ approach, effectively creating micro-environments within the open-plan space. These spaces are carefully designed with screens, half-height partitions and thresholds as well as specific colours, materials, furniture and acoustic treatments to encourage specific behavioural cues.
It is imperative that people are put at the heart of these spaces. Tomorrow’s workplace needs to accommodate a much more fluid workforce; as restrictions relax, we are likely to see significant fluctuations in office occupancy across a week. Employers need to understand what tasks people want to do in the office as well as offer a connection with colleagues and the business, which individuals can’t get at home.
This approach was a key focus for Willmott Dixon. We worked with the firm before lockdown to reimagine its London and south HQ, to realign the premises with how its staff were working. The team recognised that their staff have two main roles; working within their specific field with colleagues who specialise in the same area and working within a multi-disciplinary project group. Both roles are important and require different sets of people to collaborate, however, the reliance on traditional workstations meant groups were siloed within their disciplines.
Implementing project spaces
We designed a task-based environment, establishing a series of zones across the office. The space has no traditional workstations, instead operating through collaborative ‘project spaces’, complemented by touchdown, quiet, focused and large group areas. These flexible workstations can be booked out for hours, days or weeks at a time to create a flexible and immersive ‘project team’ environment.
In the short term, the zones provide automatic social distancing measures for people in the office. However, in the long term, the space is set up for when restrictions lift post-COVID-19 and can be used as originally intended.
When considering your workplace within a post-COVID environment, make sure you truly understand the tasks taken on by your team. Align your space to meet these needs and consider how you can introduce zonal working to encourage collaboration and creativity. Remember, the biggest barrier to positive change is a lack of buy-in – engaging with your team from the start will be key to an optimised working environment.
GT3 Architects is an award-winning architecture practice with studios in Nottingham and Newcastle. The people-focused firm champions an inclusive, sustainable and engaging way of doing business that positions people at the heart of every project.