How businesses are looking to replicate home-like atmosphere in future office layouts

At some point in 2021 employees will return to the office to meet and collaborate physically with their colleagues. Yet the office they go back to — even for just a few days a week — might look a lot different to the one they left.

We spoke to a range of office design and storage experts about some of the main ways organizations are planning to alter their office environments.

Decluttering to create open spaces
Physical obstacles to people working together are being removed to create open spaces to help with social distancing. To help open up that space, businesses are being advised to store or dispose of physical records that dominate the space, digitize where possible and recycle inefficient desk banks or other furniture that prevent safe social distancing, according to Phil Shepley, general manager at storage and information management company Iron Mountain. “A decluttered office also reduces physical distractions and other impediments to concentration — allowing employees to safely meet and spark creativity,” he added.

Choosing homey yet professional interiors
After a year working in our bedrooms and dining rooms, offices in 2021 need to be homey and comfortable. In fact, as nice or even nicer than our home with decent sofas, attractive decor and good coffee. “A home-like atmosphere is a trending topic around workspaces. It is about making an attractive space where workers can communicate, work as a team and relax,” said Caroline Savin, interior designer at Barcelona-based Bloomint Design.

Making room to work alone
A large proportion of offices already have lounges and areas where employees can chat and meet. That will remain critical when people return to the office along with more collaborative open workspaces. But there must also be areas for people to work alone. “Some people might become overwhelmed on the return to the office and need a moment of solitude to get back into the rhythm of working,” said Katie Whell, operations director at Pure Offices.

Making room for Zoom
Video calls will remain a big part of our lives post-lockdown so offices need video conferencing spaces with big screens, flawless wi-fi and sound proofing to guarantee the best video call experience. “Businesses will need to address the culture around calls. You could have half the attendees physically in the room and others working remotely on video. If the tech fails, those at home could be sidelined,” said Rachel Houghton, managing director at Business Moves Group.

Changing the office restaurant
Staff will need to feel safe while they eat, so expect one-way systems and Covid-secure food preparation areas with more grab-and-go options. “Salad bars and buffets will be replaced,” said Morag Freathy, managing director of foodservice company Compass Business and Industry. “In the long-term restaurants must still be designed to look and feel good, so choose the right lighting and even music to keep employees motivated and engaged.” 

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Avoiding conflict around the work environment
Employees have become used to controlling the temperature of their room, their lighting and noise levels while working at home. Invest in apps and tools that give people control in their immediate area in the office. 

Installing moveable and multipurpose furniture
Think chairs and tables on wheels that can move around the office and instantly change the office design and work environment. Moveable walls also enable the room sizes to be altered or a breakout room to be created only when needed.

Automating the reception
There is a rise in automated check-in kiosks to replace the front desk. Employees can also check-in to a flight, book a taxi or order a pizza for a meeting themselves using their smartphone. Rather than waiting areas with newspapers and magazines, businesses will use tech solutions like visitor management systems.

Bringing fun to the office
After more than a year of lockdown and not physically interacting with colleagues, it is important employees can let their hair down in the office. Digital marketing agency Distinctly has installed a dart board and a games console to provide a creative outlet away from people’s computer screens. “It’s not something that can be easily replicated remotely, so that will add to the experience of attending the office and boost team relationships,” said Distinctly managing director Tom Shurville.

Keeping data and people secure
The physical safety of employees will remain paramount as the pandemic eases, but don’t forget digital security. If people are working in a hybrid way, ensure your digital security infrastructure is first class to avoid data losses and cyberattacks.

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