How interior design is helping future-proof tomorrow’s workplace

Katrina Miranda, National Interior Design Lead, Associate at ThomsonAdsett

The coronavirus pandemic has asked us to re-evaluate and redefine what the future workplace looks like.

COVID-19 has fast-tracked the trajectory of workplace design, bringing forward growing trends such as creating environments that support virtual teams, agile spaces that can flex to support a variety of activities to improve utilisation. For example, a breakout space is not just for eating and socialising but can be used for meetings and as a breakaway work point as well.

This is running parallel to evolving technology which is enabling a highly mobile workforce. People are increasingly on the move and can work virtually anywhere. Design can complement this by creating the right environmental settings such as touch down zones and plug ins.

Activity-based and agile workspaces were all based on the premise of empowering staff to choose the space that best suits the work activities and tasks they need to complete on the day. This now, needs to take into account the ‘home’ has become an extension of the workplace.

Designing for the future

Organisations need to consider an interior COVID-19 workplace plan which has the flexibility and agility to respond instantly to changing, government-enforced restrictions.

The plan should also address social distancing, hygiene and infection control and lockdown plans to mitigate risk and ensure staff feel safe.

A hygiene and infection control strategy can be achieved by integrating touch-free, automated fixtures and equipment such as sensor taps, automatic doors, and sensor lighting.

Material selection is also key to achieving this strategy. Specifying easy to clean, wipeable, smooth surfaces and antibacterial and antimicrobial finishes such as silver and copper alloy materials mitigate the risk of spread. Integration of sanitisation stations with hand sanitiser and/or surface wipes should also be considered. Where possible creating openable spaces or internal environments with access to fresh air can also assist.

A key point of address is what happens at the front door. Companies are exploring new temperature testing points, digital, touch-free sign-in stations and sanitisation procedures which the design needs to cater for at reception. As part of this, the arrival process should also consider a possible quarantine-room (which can be used as a meeting room on a day-to-day basis) near the entry in the event of someone presenting with COVID-like symptoms.

One of the most concerning characteristics of COVID-19 is how quickly it can spread. In response to this, tenants are looking for ‘third business spaces’ beyond their tenancy’s front door to minimise external foot traffic within their workspaces.

This creates opportunities for commercial asset owners to look at creating community business hubs for their tenants in their lobbies, for example, by way of shared, bookable meeting spaces, business lounges and cafes with a variety of seating options to support informal meetings and work tasks.

Creating highly flexible spaces that respond to changing social distancing requirements means creating spaces that can cater for a variety of activities.

Areas such as the traditional meeting/collaboration spaces, touch-down spots and breakout zones can all be transformed and utilised as potential primary work points if social distancing requirements come into effect. This can easily be done by ensuring each of these areas are designed in an ergonomic and technology-enabled way so they can be transformed into a primary work point as required.

Transformable office spaces

Workplace design going forward needs to support a decentralised and distributed team as some form of working-from-home (WFH) will remain and become part of the new way of working.

This includes creating more meeting spaces and collaboration zones with the right technology and acoustics to support an increase in VC meetings, creating easy ‘plug n’ play’ spaces where staff can fly in and fly out as required.

Surveys indicate staff prefer to do more focus and individual-based work at home and are seeking to go into the office for more collaboration, social activities and informal conversations, or to access specialised facilities which they don’t have access to at home such as printing. The layout of the future workspace will reflect these preferences with greater emphasis on breakout zones, meeting and brainstorming spaces and incidental bump spaces.

The quality of the office design becomes a big influencer, ‘a carrot’, in encouraging more people to return to office by providing great facilities and amenities and through a design outcome that makes people feel safe and promotes their wellbeing.

With a more remote and mobile workforce, a well-designed office can also hugely assist in creating and maintaining a strong corporate culture and cohesion (which is likely to be impacted by a decentralised team) through the right mix of bump spaces, and collaboration, gathering and social zones.