Five Workplace Trends for 2021

Russell Glover, Group Design Director Workplace strategy, Agile working, Hybrid working

2020 was a year that shook up every aspect of our lives. One of the most notable changes to many people’s lives is the amount of time we’ve spent at home, and how we’ve adapted to work there. Now, the way we think about the workplace had changed dramatically. At the start of the pandemic, there was a lot of talk around the ‘death of the office’, which has now come full circle. While we may never use offices in the same way as we did before 2020, general consensus suggests that the office is sorely needed for a lot of people, whether it’s an escape from a small London flat, or a space to catch up with colleagues. Many of the clients we’ve spoken to have indicated a strong preference for keeping the office space as a central hub for employees to come together.

One of the benefits cited of working from home is the lack of mundane commute. However, a study by UCL has shown that even if originally appealing, people who work remotely for a long period of time often self-introduce mini-commutes. From a short walk around the block in the morning to a longer run- this indicates that as humans, we do better when a physical divide is placed in between home and work.

It is clear that the office is here to stay, but now we have the chance to use the learnings from the last year to inform positive changes to the world of work. There is no disputing the fact that the landscape of offices needs to change to facilitate progress, but in what ways?

1) More collaboration space

Some people have loved enforced WFH. Introverts, people longing to spend more time with their kids, or those who have really great home working setup.

Businesses will have to attract these people back into the space, perhaps even several times a week. Simple maths indicates that if working from home is going to be embraced at least once or twice a week, a 1-2-1 desk policy is no longer required and returning to empty desks and a lonely workspace will discourage rather than encourage a return to the office.

It’s important to focus on what has been missed during our extended period of separation. Collaboration, communication, and comradery. The office will need to become a destination space for people to gain what they have lacked in the home working environment.

Furniture manufacturers have been promoting flexible collaboration solutions for years. Many companies have embraced these solutions, but we are going to see a stronger need for them once we return to the office again. Employees are missing the ad hoc office conversations and subsequent collaboration and innovation that goes alongside this. We will need to provide flexible spaces to facilitate these important moments in businesses that have been non-existent for almost a year.

2) Softer spaces

We will also see a stronger move towards more Resimercial design. With most employees spending more time at home, a softer and more inviting workspace will be preferable to return to. Office environments will try to recreate a sense of home and comfort inside the business through furniture pieces, lighting and culture.

3) Hybrid meeting spaces/zoom rooms

It won’t just be flexible collaboration spaces that will increase in popularity. Zoom rooms with great technology for hybrid meetings will become more prevalent. One of the positives of the rise of video conferencing is saving the time spent travelling between meetings.

A huge 97% of direct video calls are made on a 1-2-1 basis, and even if this drops slightly when we’re back in the office on a more regular basis, the standard open plan office acoustics cannot facilitate this. Thankfully, this is a relatively easy fix, with many furniture manufactures already offering solutions for this issue. Phone booths as well as sound insulated meeting pods will become commonplace, for use by small groups or individuals.

4) A focus on wellness

Instant chat messaging has helped business productivity, but it also encourages us to reply to messages outside of working hours, which ultimately leads to burnout. 32% of workers in the UK have said that lockdown pushed them closer to burnout. With remote working seeing a rise, and working from home policies being written into contracts, it will be interesting to see how businesses adapt. In 2017, France instructed a ‘right to disconnect’ law as a reaction to workers feeling overwhelmed by the pressure to respond at all times, should and could the UK one day follow suit?

As well as burnout, one of the complaints about home working has been a lack of ergonomic solutions, leading to increased levels of back pain, eye strain and neck ache. If working from home is written into company policy, businesses will have to take responsibility for their employees wellbeing not just within the office space but also outside of it. And this doesn’t just relate to physical health, but mental health too.

Quite rightly, mental health is being discussed more openly, and this has been one of the biggest talking points over the last year across all industries, interests and insights. Employees’ mental health is not just important for the individual, but for the business as well. A happy employee does better work and is around 12% more productive and employers who invest in employee health and wellbeing over the next year will be those who reap the rewards in the future.

It is not a coincidence that the topic of mental health was on the rise as Gen Z have entered the workplace. Another issue prioritised by this generation is sustainability. Of course, this is a discussion that has taken place for some time, but with 2020 making us rethink every aspect of our lives, sustainability is fast becoming a hot topic for businesses. The popularity of sustainable materials, recycling and green offices will rise as these younger employees become more influential in the workplace.

5) Teaching and learning

It’s clear that more remote working is here to stay, with many businesses adapting well, to the enforced office closures. What isn’t obvious however, is how remote team management will develop. Companies would do best to learn from corporations that have tried and tested these skills- like Google, who conducted a two-year study into the topic and defined key steps to success.

We’re also going to see a focus on in-person employee teaching and learning. Over the past year, learning by osmosis in the office has halted with any new skills needing to be developed online. And this isn’t just for junior employees, but for all levels of staff. Many of our clients have referenced this being an issue with new starters having to learn almost entirely virtually, so over the next year there is going to be a big focus on in-person training to make up for lost time. The workplace will adapt to facilitate learning, and at Peldon Rose we’re excited about all that there is to learn.

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