Transformation at Work: The Workplace In The New Normal
17 Mar 2021
Advancements in technology, fluctuations in economic conditions or changes in workforce demographics – none have had the magnitude of impact the way COVID-19 did on the way we work. 2020 was the year of forced rethinking for many organisations. Lockdown measures forced many organisations to begin working from home (WFH) and greatly accelerated adoption rates of digital technology across organisations and industries. How has the way we work transformed in the age of this new normal?
A Technology-Driven Future
While the adoption of technological tools has allowed many companies to survive the initial wave of the global health crisis, it has also presented new challenges. Even though employees can now return to their physical workplaces, safe management measures now dictate the interior design of offices. Moreover, employers and employees alike realised that business productivity can be achieved from the comfort of their homes, diminishing the appeal of a physical workplace. It is safe to say that the pandemic has raised questions about the role of the office in a technology-driven future.
The pandemic caused a massive shift to work from home among knowledge and service workers. Teams are using communication apps like Zoom, Slack and Microsoft Teams to stay productive and collaborate with each other. With technology becoming an integral part of the new workplace, it has given rise to a new work model known as the hybrid workplace.
The hybrid work model – a blend of WFH and working in the office, makes use of hybrid office settings such as meeting/collaboration spaces that enable synergies between people on-site and off-site. This can come in the form of micro-meeting points where people in the office can quickly set up a video meeting with their colleague who is WFH or brainstorm ideas with other in-office colleagues.
Changes in Space Composition
Corporate and commercial interior design has undergone many transformative changes. The emergence of the open-plan workspace in the 1950s marked an evolution from enclosed offices. Touted as an office layout that encourages collaboration and communication among employees, many organisations have incorporated this into their office designs. However, there has been growing debate regarding the effectiveness of open-plan layouts. Studies have shown that working in an open-plan workspace led to a sharp decline in face-to-face communication between employees, while the usage of digital communication increased. Now, open-plan workspaces pose a potential health risk due to the close proximity with colleagues in shared spaces.
To minimise the risk of infection, organisations have greatly modified their office spaces to ensure the safety of employees. We are witnessing the return to a more private and enclosed office layout. Workstations are positioned at least 1.5 metres apart, partition barriers have been installed on counters and work areas, and organisations have mandated split-team work arrangements. How people move throughout the office space will also have to be altered. Organisations have implemented staggered arrival times, one-way hallways as well as safety distancing guidelines.
Beyond physical safety, organisations are also challenged to create work environments that provide emotional stability. If most of the work can be done at home, employers have to find ways to create a safe and relaxing environment for their staff to feel motivated and emotionally secure to come back to. This can be done by creating new spaces or repurposing existing spaces to be used for relaxation or social purposes, creating opportunities for either quiet time or dialogue.
A Collaboration-Driven Future
Previously, the physical office used to provide all the tools necessary to carry out business operations, but now most of that can be done with a laptop and a secure internet connection. From collaboration to managing project deadlines to processing financial transactions and storing resources, nearly everything can be done online from wherever the employee is. Since employees have less need to return to the workplace to do their work, the function of the workplace may have to change as well, which inadvertently impacts the office interior design.
More spaces in the office will have to be designed to promote and facilitate collaboration, thereby creating value for employees through community building and effective communication. This is also known as behaviour-based design, in which the purpose behind business activities is deeply understood so that adaptive work environments can be built to facilitate them. In essence, it acknowledges that when it comes to corporate office interior design, a one-size-fits-all approach has limited effectiveness.
Companies are using the office to drive retention, collaboration and innovation. The office has adapted. It has become more social and is influenced by hospitality trends to create ‘employee experiences’. This element of change will be greater with a bigger focus on creating connections with colleagues, something that remote working cannot provide for employees.
Planning for the future and being adaptable will always be essential considerations for any company, be it a new start-up or a multinational corporation. This extends to workplace interior design as it is a tangible form of culture and identity that reflects the goals and desires of the company’s valued employees. While many organisations are returning to the office, they have to rethink their physical space to ensure safety while ensuring that they encourage collaboration and human interaction.
With the new normal introducing new ideas and challenges to the workplace, organisations will benefit from hiring an experienced office renovation contractor to help them seamlessly incorporate these elements into their existing office layout.
Thrive in the new normal and achieve your business goals with ID21! Contact us today to learn more.