The office of the future: Are we there yet?

For decades, the office has been an ever-evolving concept that has had to keep up with developments in technology, changes to working practices, shifting behavioural and business needs, and much more.

Right now, the offices we have come to know are at a turning point once again. Namely, the COVID-19 pandemic has created a substantial need for change in our places of work. While restrictions were intended to be temporary, the lingering threat of the virus has resulted in what is likely to be a permanent shift in perspectives towards how and where we carry out our roles.

Working from home has become the norm during the course of the pandemic, leaving many with a newfound appreciation of the freedom and flexibility of working remotely. However, while the traditional idea of an office - a place away from home, typically owned or rented by the business - may have changed, the need for dedicated office space hasn’t.

In fact, this period of working from home has highlighted just how important it is to have a place of work, which is separate from daily family life, as without, many have noted concerns regarding a worsened work-life balance.

With traditional offices outdated and unable to meet the changing needs of a COVID-stricken workforce, and working from home posing other potential issues, a solution needs to be found in the office of the future.

 

Hybrid working

Perhaps the most distinctive characteristic of the office of the future will be its hybrid solution. It should marry the advantageous parts of a physical company-owned workspace with the benefits of working from home.

As teams have proven their ability to efficiently get their jobs done remotely, employers will be much more open to the flexible approach moving forward. The positive impacts of a physical office on things like company culture, communication, team ethic and shared knowledge should not be overlooked, which is why tangible space is still very much a necessity.

The solution for the future will enable employees to come into the company’s workplace in order to not miss out on these valuable office perks, but also work from home when required for a better work/life balance. Both large and smaller companies have already started to adopt this new hybrid model, allowing teams to create schedules for when they will be working from home, or even use an online booking system to secure a desk space in the shared facility. This way, the company can manage the number of people in the office at one time, meaning spaces can be downsized to save costs, and social distancing and thorough cleaning procedures can be maintained.

While this explains the need for future offices, their roles and facilities require some consideration. Home desks and workstation setups have covered the functional aspect of an office, meaning employees need to feel as though their company’s workplace offers more value than remote solutions.

 

Well-Being

Well-being and mental health at work have been particular areas of focus in recent years, with the pandemic only increasing attention on the issues, due to the impacts of isolation, lockdown, and living in constant fear of the spreading virus. Now, more than ever, employers must build a culture of promoting better well-being and being more considerate of mental health. With the office playing a key role in creating and communicating company culture, consideration must be given to these issues when designing and developing offices of the future.

For example, aware of the fact many employees will be adopting the hybrid working model, office designs should focus on more than the functional aspect of getting jobs done. Instead, the office should become a place where teams are encouraged to meet, collaborate and build strong bonds, which will combat any concerns of loneliness or exclusion at work. Floor plans should include meeting rooms, breakout areas and communal spaces that promote social interaction on both professional and more personal levels.

These spaces also encourage employees to take breaks during the working day, which is proven to increase productivity and improve well-being. Some companies may even decide to take this one step further, with the introduction of sleeping pods for short naps.

As well as mental well-being, focus should also be placed on physical health, as the two have a knock-on effect. With this, things such as bike stands, on-site gyms, or at least gym memberships, and other fitness and health-related classes should be included in company perks and benefits packages.

 

Sustainability

Sustainability has become somewhat of a buzzword in just about every aspect of life, and rightly so. Although, rather than just being spoken about, it requires careful consideration and urgent action in order to combat the challenges our world is currently facing.

 

While sustainability at work can be interpreted in a number of ways, for example, the longevity of the company’s success, what is being referred to here regards the business’s environmental impact, and the steps it is taking to minimise, or neutralise, any negative effects.

 

Sustainable approaches can be taken in all business practices, including supply chains, manufacturing, service provision, delivery and packaging to name but a few. And the offices of the future will require just as much sustainable consideration as them all.

 

Sustainable offices will need to go far beyond things such as recycling bins and energy-saving lightbulbs though. Instead, it will take innovative designs that maximise natural light and heating, smart procedures and processes that minimise wasted energy, and investment into green advancements that can shrink the building’s carbon footprint.

 

For example, in recent years, we have seen more and more serviced office spaces adopt solutions such as living walls or rooftops, solar panel installations, paperless policies and even smart technologies that make workplaces more efficient to run. Going forward, not only will efforts increase, but such practices will become critical to a business’ success, as only those doing what they can to combat the climate crisis will attract new customers and talent.

 

Technology

Technology has been one of the largest drivers of change in the workplace in recent decades. For instance, computers and the internet have gone from being new, nice to have amenities, to essential components for the day to day running of any modern-day business.

As advancements in technology continue, so will the evolution of the office. Future workplaces will need to be fitted with state of the art connectivity networks as a minimum. More sophisticated office buildings will need to give greater consideration to smart technologies for efficiency and automation, making employees’ experiences more seamless and convenient. This can involve anything from fingerprint or facial recognition security systems that reduce the need to carry key cards or fobs, for instance, to artificial intelligence, which learns the patterns of each employee and then provides tailored assistance to support them in their role.

Technology can also help ease teams back into the office. The pandemic is by no means at its end yet, meaning many still see a complete return as a risk to their health and well-being. In order to minimise the anxiety surrounding this, employers will need to look at how technology can help. For example, high tech air ventilation systems and UV cleaning solutions might need to move up the priority list when managing an office space.

It could also be that technology is on track to advance so much that a physical office is simply no longer needed, whether at home or anywhere else. This is the potential of the ‘metaverse’, which is the trending term among almost every major technology or digital brand as of late. The concept will enable employees to meet, collaborate and work in a virtual space, using avatars and VR glasses to get there.

 

Clearly, the office as we know it is at the brink of substantial change, both in look and function. Many businesses have already begun to adapt their physical spaces to cater to the shifting needs and expectations of workforces, suggesting we may not be as far away from the next phase of the office as we may think. However, others are still weighing up the benefits of an office in a post-COVID era, or are reluctant to invest in their physical space. These businesses must understand that the features that have typically been a bonus, are now becoming non-negotiable for the future success of the company.

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