Re-Modelling the Office After COVID-19

As confidence slowly returns following the creation and roll out of two COVID-19 vaccines, organisations are now beginning to focus on their second largest overhead next to staffing: the office space! Throughout the pandemic, we have been paying close attention to how organisations have been planning for the future and the way in which we’ve been asked to help. By doing so, we’ve been able to identify what businesses are prioritising and how this is shaping the post-pandemic workplace. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at what we’ve found and how we are helping businesses to re-model their existing workplace as they embrace a different set of workspace priorities.

The Challenges Businesses are Prioritising

Since the first lockdown on 16 March, we’ve noticed that our clients have prioritised a familiar set of challenges. These include the following:

  • Rapid cost reduction
  • Application for government funding
  • Modelling changing customer needs
  • Reassessing supply chain volatility
  • Accessing coronavirus job retention schemes in support of their workforce
  • Securing newly implemented or scaled remote working practices to ensure the continuity of critical functions
  • Assessing and implementing controls to mitigate against new risks created by the new working environment

 

A collaborative team-orientated HQ for Alpha FX housed within the Brunel Building 

How These Challenges are Re-Modelling the Workplace

There is little room for argument that the landscape of the office has been forever changed by COVID-19.  In fact, we are now seeing a reversal in trends that previously formed the driving pillars behind clients’ workplace strategies.

For example, maximum density space planning, open plan desking and team-based workspaces were all designed with the view of maximising “occupant loads” and real estate efficiency. However, these have largely given way to remote working and sparse - if any - office occupancy at all during this time.  

 

Private office rooms were a must for Russell Reynolds, who wanted their team to have the ability to work in privacy when needed

So, have we reverted to a previous iteration of the traditional office where individual and cellular space (albeit now with Perspex screens and socially distanced desking layouts) is the norm? Definitely not - but the office will be different. It will be more balanced and social, more technology orientated, and more culturally representative.

Read also: 10 Expert Tips for Returning to the Workplace

The Rise and Impact of Remote Working

As a result of the pandemic, more employees have been forced to work from home and communicate with their colleagues via Teams or Zoom. For many companies, this has been a complete sea change to their usual way of working, but they’ve had no choice but to adapt.

What’s interesting about the situation is that remote work was possible before the pandemic. However, to quote an interesting article I read on the BBC website recently, what COVID-19 has brought is “a mindset difference that allows people to view remote work as a new normal rather than an occasional opportunity”. And data backs this up: in April, 2020 the Office of National Statistics reported that 46% of employed Brits were working from home.

 

Ali, one of our designers gives us a glimpse into her work from home desk set up 

But others worry about possible drawbacks to long-term remote working. It opens up unanswered questions: What is my career growth path? How do I collaborate on new ideas? How do I build a trusted relationship with a customer? How do I engage my team? Is this fair to people with small kids? What are the implications on salaries?

How Modus is Helping Companies to Adapt

Through reaching out to our customers across many industry sectors, we have determined that there will be a permanent and stable mix of home and office days as we move forward. This has given rise to two key questions: What will the office become and how much of it does our client now need to own?

Clearly there will be no “one size fits all” solution, least of all because we just can’t abide a cookie cutter approach, but what we are doing is developing a number of office design frameworks for customers that will help them reshape their individual landscape to pivot towards a new set of working needs. This comprises a mix of task-based work settings for both individual and group needs, including spaces for “town hall” meetings, a range of collaboration areas and multiple single-person workstations all intertwined with the underlying flexibility we know our clients need. All of these create a different office landscape which have at their core a familiar theme consistent with fewer desks and more highly valued spaces for employees to interact.

 

Our founder Toby on teams with Georgia helping her with maths school work as a part of our Workplace Futures Group online skill-sharing initiative which we launched during the first lockdown  

Furthermore, the continuation of remote working will mean video platforms such as Teams, Zoom and Web-ex are also becoming a priority within the brief as these IT tools become the staple of essential communication when employees have “home days”.

While it’s important to embrace these video platforms during this time to support remote working, research shows that the physical office will still be at the heart of working operations for most businesses. As many employees place great value on being and working together as it creates a sense of belonging and identity and minimises the feelings of isolation that many have experienced throughout lockdown.

The key then is to strike a balance: support the technology that allows remote working and create a space that employees love coming into. This bears similarities to the flexible working model of course, and it’s likely this will become the “new normal” for many companies now and in the future.

Read Also: Our Top Technology Tips for your Office Refurbishment

Using Employees to Help Inform Design Decisions

An important part of the design process is involving employees themselves. By conducting interviews and workshops with employees, you can use the resulting data and insights to determine desired ways of working, space requirements and supporting operational models. The resulting workplace can enhance employee satisfaction and accommodate future growth and change for the business. Moreover, in-person activity is essential to build team spirit which drives innovation.

 

A community-focused HQ for Matches Fashion within The Shard.

As a workspace design and build consultancy, Modus has been using this process for 30 years to support office design decisions. Our motto is “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail”, meaning it’s essential you do the groundwork to maximise your business’s return on investment. By speaking to your employees you will do just that, and as we take a leap towards a “new normal”, using data-driven evidence is arguably more important than ever!

Do You Need Help with Your Workplace Transformation?

If you’ve got questions about the role of your office now and in the future, then the team at Modus would be delighted to help. With over 30 years’ experience transforming workspaces, Modus has built a reputation as the leading office design company in London. To book a meeting with one of our dedicated workplace consultants, please call 020 7963 1999 or email info@modusgroup.com

11 January 2021

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A guest blog written by our Managing Director, Lindsay Dowden