Preparing for Another Day at the Office

It’s been more than 18 months since the majority of office workers have been in the office full time. While it’s too soon to say exactly what lasting impact the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have had on the UK’s office culture, it’s clear to see that for the time being at least there is likely to be a significant shift towards a more flexible, less regimented approach to workplace-based work, with staff splitting time between home and the office, which has led to a boom in refurbishments as landlords refresh their facilities.

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Here, Phillip Gay, Director at joinery and fit-out specialist Cre8 Joinery Solutions, looks at the common features which are set to shape the post-pandemic office space.

Flexibility and adaptability

Although the pandemic hasn’t been the death knell for offices that it was perhaps predicted to be, it has shifted expectations dramatically. Headline-grabbing design elements – like that giant slide into the canteen – have taken a backseat with functionality and flexibility coming to the fore.

For companies wanting to encourage staff to come into the office regularly, workplaces need to be a pleasant place to work and spend time in – although this will vary between individuals. Balancing the different needs of staff, together with rapidly-changing regulations, requires a flexible approach so that workplaces are able to adapt and suit the needs of different people at different times – without further redesign.

Setting aside space for private individual workstations within an office was something that had already been gaining traction in recent years, but this year their popularity has increased even more. They’re ideal as they provide office workers with a practical alternative to the main office space and are more self-contained, making social distancing easier. Designed to either complement or contrast with the rest of the office, these individual stations work best when finished with fabric-covered acoustic panelling, which not only softens the space but also dampens background noise.

Offices as a social hub

The UK-wide lockdowns over the last 18 months provided a mass working from home (WFH) experiment. With so much time away from the office, it’s given us time to assess why we need the office in the first place.

While staff have been WFH and meeting virtually, encouraging collaboration and sharing of ideas has been challenging, so it’s understandably one of the driving forces for getting back to the office. It’s, therefore, important that workplaces provide plenty of meeting spaces of different sizes, which allow staff to get together safely in small teams to collaborate – discussing ideas, solving problems and tackling challenges together. The importance of a quick chat or informal meeting in person shouldn’t be underestimated as a way of solving something quickly or brainstorming ideas.

Small breakout and informal meeting areas can make an excellent addition to an office space and are ideal for informal meetings or group work. Usually with a shared table and chairs or bench seating, these spaces can be designed to incorporate screens to absorb noise, but as they’re not fully-enclosed meeting rooms, ventilation is not an issue, making them safer spaces to meet in teams.

Another key aspect of the office that the last 18 months have highlighted is the importance of everyday social interaction between colleagues. For many, these small interactions can impact their overall wellness, and more regular interaction also helps to bond teams together and, therefore, boost productivity.

With this in mind, it’s clear that providing areas which allow staff to meet on a social level, whether that’s a canteen, cafe or a seating area set apart from the main office workspace, is not just a nice thing to have, but is actually essential. One of the projects completed by Cre8 earlier this year included a covered outside break area which offers better ventilation, making it a more COVID-safe option.

Cleanliness

It goes without saying that in the current climate having a robust cleaning regime throughout an office is also a must. And this is something that needs to be considered at the material specification stage as some are better able to withstand regular and intensive cleaning than others.

Solid surface Staron, for example, is 100% non-porous, which means that bacteria is unable to grow on it, and likewise solid surface Corian can be joined with no visible seams, which again makes it difficult for bacteria to take hold. Both are ideal for kitchen worktops and washroom vanities and are available in a wide choice of colours and finishes to replace concrete or natural stone, meaning there’s no need to compromise on aesthetics.

Another key trend which is only going to become more important as offices reconfigure to cater for the new normal, is the addition of staff showers and changing areas within an office – especially as staff may look to walk or cycle into work to avoid public transport. Materials which are easy to clean or boast in-built anti-bacterial properties, such as Fenix Laminate, are ideal here, as are products that limit touchpoints, such as infrared taps and lockers with smart locks.

The pandemic and WFH experience has highlighted more than ever before what a workplace needs to be for staff and companies alike to grow and thrive. Providing a variety of flexible working areas and space for staff to meet on a work or social level is the key to creating a space that office staff will want to return to.

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