The Future of the Workplace – revolution not evolution

Author - Arlen Pettitt

Date published:

Michael Simpson an Associate and Workplace Consultant at Newcastle-based GT3 Architects. GT3 call their approach ‘People Architecture’ because they put the people not the buildings at the heart of their projects. In this article, which is part of the Chamber’s Future of the Workplace report, Michael looks at how office space will need to adapt to meet post-pandemic needs and emphasises the important of listening to staff when designing your space.

Download our full Future of the Workplace report here, and read our launch blog here.

The “evolution of the office” has always been a common trope in the world of property and construction.

Over the last 50 years particularly, the traditional formula of desks, computers, coffee points and break out areas has undergone near constant micro-shifts, as the modern workforce adapted to reflect changing societal roles and the inclusion of new technologies.

Sitting in my spare room on a Tuesday morning, however, it’s fair to say that nothing has impacted the working environment with quite so much immediacy as the Covid-19 outbreak.

Reacting to the pandemic has super charged our response to the traditional office environment, accelerating us along our existing trajectory, and forcing us to realign our perception of the office as a fundamentally social space. Whilst I don’t think this is the ‘death of the office’ as many are questioning, I do believe it to be the death of the individual workstation as we know it.

Even before 2020, we were seeing a concerted move away from desk-centric workplaces, to ones that facilitate collaboration, learning and support. Now, after months of various stages of lockdown, employers, and their employees, have had many perceived barriers challenged and are realising the benefits of being able to work flexibly/remotely. Yes, this may finally mean a significant rise in flexible working, but it should also lead to a heightened perception on how the workplace environment can influence performance.

This important shift in perception (and perhaps on a more human level, trust) will finally allow the office to move away from the traditional ‘sea of desks’ to a much more social, task-orientated environment.

“Remove common barriers to success – excess noise, poor temperature control, lack of privacy or lack of communal space – by creating an environment (and an atmosphere) suitable for every part of the working day.”

The workplaces of tomorrow delivering the best ROI will be those which have a) listened to their staff, and b) taken a ‘landscaped’ approach to their layout. A landscaped approach means creating bespoke micro-environments, physically and visually delineated by clear use of colour schemes, partitions, material finishes and acoustic treatments.

Clever and clear use of the above can result in a well-branded, well-thought-out layout, which not only supports your employees’ wellbeing and overall staff retention, but actively encourages the specific behavioural cues which allow your workforce to deliver their best work.

These spaces remove common barriers to success – excess noise, poor temperature control, lack of privacy or lack of communal space – by creating an environment (and an atmosphere) suitable for every part of the working day. Most importantly, these zones encourage team members to collaborate when needed, not just within their existing discipline, but with other areas of the business.

As we move towards flexible working becoming the norm, tomorrow’s workplace needs to accommodate a much more fluid workforce; as restrictions relax, we are likely to see big fluctuations in office occupancy across a working week. Many organisations will be looking to rationalise their space, capitalising on the opportunity to reduce square footage. Others will be looking to entice their workers back into the workplace by including more typically domestic areas.

On a practical level, having task-based micro-environments will not only encourage users back to the office, but will benefit from a system which allows users to book specific task areas as and when they need them (be it for hours, days or weeks). This allows users piece of mind that their environment will support their activity, whilst also allowing employees to control and monitor capacity – a big benefit in today’s world of social distancing.

“Design should not be a cut and paste solution and it is imperative that people are put at the heart of these spaces.”

Thinking of reimagining your workspace? Listen up

Over the last 10 years, our workplace consultancy team has designed workspaces for family-run businesses, SMEs, and global organisations across both the private and public sectors. In all cases, the fundamental key to our success has been listening to the workforce in question. Design should not be a cut and paste solution and it is imperative that people are put at the heart of these spaces. Employer’s need to understand what tasks people want to do in the office as well as offer a connection with colleagues and the business, which individuals just can’t get at home. In our experience, no matter how well an organisation thinks it understands it’s staff, there are always ways to improve.

When considering your workplace within a post-Covid environment, make sure you truly understand the tasks taken on by your team. Align your space to meet these needs and consider how you can introduce zonal working to encourage collaboration and creativity. Remember, the biggest barrier to positive change is a lack of buy-in – engaging with your team from the start will be key to an optimised working environment.

Michael Simpson
@_gt3architects
gt3architects.com

GT3 Architects is an award-winning architectural practice with studios in Newcastle and Nottingham. The people focused firm works across a number of different sectors including workplace, sports and leisure, masterplanning, residential, and more.

The people-focused firm champions an inclusive, sustainable, and engaging way of doing business that positions people at the heart of every project.

Download the Chamber’s full Future of the Workplace report here, and read our launch blog here.

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