Article by Russell Glover, Head of Design.
When it comes to the design process, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Especially when we look at balancing the needs of companies who are beginning to navigate a return to the office following the coronavirus pandemic.
Every business will have a different approach to creating spaces which not only support social distancing and wellbeing, but also allow an organisation to express its values and identity through design.
Before starting any project, the design team needs to embed itself within a business to generate data-led insights and ensure people feel heard at every stage of the process. For example, when we design a new office, quite often one of our team will spend a period of time working from within the business to really get into the mindset and culture of the organisation. If designers can fully understand a companies’ culture and how they operate, their business strategy and ambitions. Designers can then build this insight into their plans, helping to perfect a working environment that best supports the company’s needs while making the best use of the space.
We also understand that offices play a central role in nurturing talent and helping employees to grow and learn. The workplace is in many ways the next step in our education journey, therefore designers have the ability to create an inspiring space which allow teams to thrive and develop.
Returning to the office will understandably be a daunting time for many, as we’ve become accustomed to distancing ourselves from people and we’ll no longer want to be too close together, meaning personal space will be much more valued. In a post-pandemic office, we feel the focus will shift to balancing the need for collaboration which gives offices purpose, with making sure employees feel safe and comfortable. We expect the density in spaces to decrease, with specific zones and an increase in touchless technology to maximise hygiene levels.
It’s important that we return to some degree of separation in order to protect the sanctity of home, and a well-designed workplace has the ability to do this. Finding that quiet place to concentrate from home isn’t always possible and for those with busy households and young children, the workplace has the potential to offer the quiet spaces and respite needed. When designing a workspace, it’s important to remember that you’re often designing a space that some will use as a sanctuary.
While wellbeing and safety remain key, so does designing offices which are sustainable and environmentally responsible. Initiatives such as BREEAM, WELL and LEED are great examples of the standards we should be incorporating into designs and striving to achieve.
On an aesthetic level, careful consideration of materials, furniture selection and the supply chain are imperative. Companies are now much more aware of their sustainability credentials and their impact on the environment, and within the industry we’re seeing a higher demand for recycled and natural materials such as cork or bamboo - which avoid using hazardous chemicals during the manufacturing process. By understanding the full supply chain involved with each aesthetic choice, it becomes much easier for designers to specify wholly sustainable pieces.
We also want to help businesses function in a sustainable way from day to day. Installing energy saving lighting, integrating facilities which allow offices to recycle easily and supplying energy efficient heating or aircon units are all simple ways we can help companies to limit their environmental impact.
By putting people at the centre of our designs we can also promote occupant well being. One way of doing this is through biophilic design, which connects us with nature by bringing the outdoors in and creating indoor green spaces. The introduction of plants and even living walls is a trend that is understandably growing in popularity with this renewed focus on biophilia. By giving people the natural cues they’re often deprived of at work you can nurture mental and even physical health and help boost productivity and job satisfaction.
Natural light is another important factor, as it encourages the production of melatonin (the hormone that helps you sleep) and increases serotonin (a mood improver). Daylight has also been shown to reduce fatigue and eye strain. Adding windows and skylights is still the most effective approach, and when creating the design for a project we always start off by reviewing the layout in order to maximise natural light.
Whether designers are re-configuring an existing design to implement social distancing measures or creating a completely new design. It is important the post-pandemic workspace centres around the new needs of users and supports their transition back into the office and ensure that they produce bespoke workplaces, which elevate user-wellbeing and support these new ways of working.
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