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The Future of the Workplace

Before employees return to the office in a “COVID-normal” approach, there are some important safety measures that organisations should be working towards to ensure hygienic and low risk work environments for staff.

When it comes to the future, change may be one of the few things that you can actually guarantee. And yet we see that the design of the office hasn’t really changed that dramatically over time. Sure there have been many technological and cultural changes that have improved the workspace for the better, but the overall idea of the office has not changed drastically since the late 1940’s. However, as the world encountered COVID-19, we started to see a lot of people start to question the office for the first time. How does the workplace look in the future, and what can we expect from it? Here are four key areas we at LINAK predict we will see change in the future.

Hybrid is the new standard

The past couple years have shown the world that people can work from home efficiently. In fact, an American study by Texas A&M Ergo Center of over 40,000 office workers shifting to working from home were shown to be just as productive after about one and a half months of transition.

It didn’t take long for the world and businesses to figure this fact out. A recent survey by Microsoft showed that 73% of employees desire flexible remote work options post pandemic. This changes the rules of the game for companies of all sizes. Big companies like Salesforce, who just finished building a giant new headquarters, found out they don’t really need all that much space, where small businesses and startups have an opportunity to be more efficient with their resource investments early in their growth.

So, what will the hybrid workplace look like? Right now, it is a bit unclear as many have not been able to come back to the office just yet. The big 10 city average by Kastle shows occupancy at just 34.4% of pre-COVID occupancy. But many companies, including Amazon, are starting to follow a similar path of implementing a couple days of work for employees to work from home. So, we may expect the occupancy for any day of the week to not be too much over 60% for the foreseeable future.

You better get flexible

If the hybrid model sticks, flexibility is going to be the only reason that it succeeds. As soon as COVID hit and people shifted to working from home, many technologies and new platforms that had just been starting up rapidly accelerated. Microsoft Teams and Zoom became household tools for work, and new updates for each of these virtual meeting and collaboration platforms felt like they were coming out daily. Now, as people are going back into the office, the focus is shifting to how can we leverage technology even more to ensure that people who are working from home have the same experience as someone working in the office.

But, possibly the most important thing, “how do we all stay connected?” Just because you have a virtual call with someone, doesn’t mean you are connecting with them in the same way as a quick laugh on the way to get coffee or seeing a reaction to some great news as it happens. This affects everything from team performance and individual happiness to how companies should hire and develop their employees.

Many are predicting the office to shift to more than just a working location. Basically, becoming a hub for connections. Desk reservations and hoteling will become more common practice, and layouts for spaces will be more centered around how people come together for work and comradery. It may be more common for companies to follow the footsteps of large companies like Google, who are downsizing or renovating their spaces to add value for the company, teams, and individuals.

Getting greener in more ways than one

Sustainability has been on the minds of most company executives for the past 15 years, but many have been a bit hesitant to make changes to their facilities and processes due to the costs often associated with them. With changes to the workplace ramping up due to the pandemic, many now can focus on this as they make their updates and build their strategies for the next few years.

A recent survey by NEXT showed that employees do not want to settle for the offices they once had. They want spaces with natural light and renewable energy sources, and no single-use materials. They want the sustainable office of the future and are willing to choose companies and jobs that are offering benefits around it. It is something that not only effects the environment, but also effects mental and physical well-being.

This means that we will likely not only see a shift in materials for office products turning greener, but employees will also want green to be brought into the office. When the outside is brought in, it does a lot for the look of a space, and it also does a lot for mental health. During the pandemic, people became used to the quick walk with the dog outside, the many escapes to the park, and exploring nature around us. According to research published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, employees working in a room with natural light boost productivity and mental health, and employees who are exposed to natural light in offices sleep better because the light improves circadian rhythms. Making it easy to see that as people move back into the office, finding ways to bring the outdoors in will have an immense impact.

Time to get comfy

The trend of combining residential feel with commercial environments was already influencing designers before COVID, but now it is necessary to think about when building a new space or creating a new design. After working for so long in their homes, going back to a stuffy office with the same grey and beige colors might be difficult for employees. Designers will be focusing on how they bring more flexibility into a workspace. People have gotten accustomed to bouncing around from the couch to the desk to the outside patio. Creating a space that has that same versatility keeps people from feeling like they are going back to a cubical style past. Thinking about the colors being added will also be important; incorporating colors that inspire or calm based on the need at that time. Designers can also use it as a tool to create zones for collaboration or identify what should be done in that area.

Making employees as comfortable in their working environment as possible, while also helping them improve their productivity, is going to be a major goal for designers in the coming year.

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