How should you craft your next office space?

The rise of the hybrid work model has been a game-changer in the realm of office space, as businesses find themselves overloaded with extra space as people opt to permanently work from home for all, or part of the week. Before the pandemic, competition for the most urban-centric sleek spaces was fierce as people wanted only prime space to operate from. It is clear when walking around any city centre today, that people are not returning to their former offices. Foot traffic has thinned to a trickle even during peak business hours.

Even though people have shown themselves to be productive remotely, one thing is clear, there are just some tasks that cannot be accomplished without being in the same space. Therefore the need for companies to have at least some established offices remains - though the spaces may look very different going forward. In short, offices will continue to be critical for efficiency, culture, camaraderie, collaboration, and to secure the best talent.

Rethinking your needs

If you are considering changing up your current office space then start with the basics. Every business will have bespoke needs and ways of operating day-to-day. Think strategically around supporting the kinds of interactions that cannot happen remotely and go from there. For instance, if the primary purpose of your space needs to accommodate specific kinds of collaboration rather than individual work, then most of your office could be devoted to collaborative areas. This could mean ample conference rooms with comfortable furniture, whiteboards, and screens for those calling into meetings virtually. It can also mean large tables where people could gather in open areas for planned or spontaneous brainstorming sessions or meetings.

Traditionally, people have had their own set area or desk that they work from daily. However, many companies are now seeing this as an antiquated waste of space that greatly affects operation costs and the square footage needed. Having a desk that is now potentially only used 50 percent of the time can be a waste. For this reason, companies are now returning to the idea of hot-desking and touchdown rooms that would allow for people to come into the office on the days they please and have a place to work, without taking up as much space. Personal lockers are being offered where employees can store their supplies and other items to be accessed when they are there, and stored securely when they are not. E-booking systems are being leveraged so that people can reserve a desk, workstation, or conference room at their convenience.

You can also expect to see that touchdown spaces will begin to resemble furniture showrooms with fully functional carved-out areas that do not belong to just one person. The savviest of management executives will now embrace all types of working configurations including shared desks, high-top tables, phone rooms, small meeting rooms, soft seating, pods, and open ancillary configurations. Modern kitchens, good lighting, speedy internet connections, and quiet spaces will also woo people back to the office. Innovative solutions such as devices combining 360-degree cameras, microphones, and speakers in “Zoom rooms” placed on a table or tripod to improve sound and visibility, will improve communication between those in-office and those working from home.

The safety of staff needs to be front of mind

Organizations must ensure that working environments are not just productive and enjoyable. They should first and foremost be safe. For this reason, cleaning and hygiene protocols should be integrated into how you see your future office. The trend of open office spaces is not going anywhere because that layout is much easier to clean and limits the amount of surface areas employees touch. For example, open floor plans eliminate or lessen, the number of door handles and cubicle openings (some of the most touched objects in offices) which are unsafe from a germ spreading perspective. Regular and thorough cleaners who use antibacterial products should be scheduled as many times a week as possible.

Ventilation is a critically important control measure for COVID-19 and other airborne viruses. Good airflow reduces the concentration of viruses in the air and consequently reduces the dangers from airborne transmission. The easiest solution is to bring in more outdoor air by opening up as many windows as possible. However, most offices are heated and cooled with HVAC systems that have been designed to use minimum amounts of outdoor air. Experts recommend that the air in a room or building gets changed every hour which is called air changes per hour (or ACH). Four to six air changes per hour through any combination of ventilation and filtration, turning over the air very frequently is the gold standard. Evaluate your current ventilation capabilities and then seek out an expert to walk you through your options as you decide on the best game plan to keep your space properly aerated.