The coronavirus pandemic has transformed our personal and professional lives. After a year of enforced work-from-home restrictions, our expectations around work and the workplace have changed dramatically. With increasing pressure for remote workers to now return to the office at least some of the time, employers’ duty of care to provide a safe and positive space for their employees has never felt more relevant.

Where workplaces previously represented a relatively binary space, where the options were either to work at a desk, in a meeting room, or perhaps within an open-plan office (replete with bean bags and other ‘innovative’ additions) attention is now turning to the workplace of the future - what do employees want and need from their office environment post Covid-19?

From flexible adaptation and niche co-working, to sustainability, people-centred design, and new workspace technologies to biophilic designs, office design is poised to play an extremely important role in the way people feel about the return to work, and future employment. So how can these designs result in happier and healthier workplaces?

The Current Situation

Employees have become accustomed to having a greater level of control over their own workspaces since being required to work from home, back in March 2020 - in fact, 89% of UK employees favour a fully flexible return to work

Those that have enjoyed home working now believe there is little need to return to the office in full capacity, and that the flexibility to work anywhere replaces the need for a fixed shared office. Swapping the commute for a better work/life balance, has boosted many peoples’ sense of wellbeing.

While this may be the case, others argue that the workplace can serve as a vital sanctuary: a place where colleagues come together to solve problems, inspire creativity and ultimately generate results that may not be possible in isolation. For many, the office represents the heart and soul of a business - without it, the workforce is just a collection of floating, fragmented individuals connected via a mutual company name.

Many employers are now providing their staff with greater flexibility, choice and control around their office presence than ever before. At the very least, workplaces need to offer flexible configurations and incorporate Covid-conscious design to meet evolving needs.

Covid-Conscious Design

As employees begin to reintegrate into their office space, employers will have to design their office space to be Covid-conscious (i.e. a safe and functional working environment). With an increased dependency on technology like video conferencing, employers will need to plan more flexible spaces to accommodate staff.

In fact, there are a lot of considerations that businesses will now need to be mindful of and plan for, including: social distancing, flow management, hygiene, signage, screens, furniture solutions, meeting rooms, contactless solutions and air quality.

The good news is that, from flow management systems to antimicrobial surface materials, there are a range of Covid-conscious solutions to alleviate potential concerns about returning to work. It’s a fact that some people will continue to feel vulnerable, so companies will need to demonstrate that they can efficiently protect those members of staff and create spaces that promote health.

Wellbeing-Focussed Design

After such a long time working from home, many people have made themselves comfortable in their home offices. Whilst it took some initial adjustment, most employees have now found a way to productively work from their home environment, potentially creating new ‘office’ spaces within spare bedrooms or at the kitchen table, where they feel most focused and happy. 

When returning to the office, businesses need to consider how to create places that promote health and wellbeing, in order to reflect the spaces that employees have become accustomed to when working at home. This can be best achieved - if possible - through glazing, and choosing solutions that will maximise access to natural light and create bright, airy spaces.

Exposure to natural light helps our bodies produce Vitamin D, improves our circadian rhythms and sleep patterns, helps us to focus, enables us to get more done, and even makes us happier. Ensuring we get enough of this vital resource is key to our physical and psychological wellbeing. But research shows that we now spend around 90% of our lives indoors - making it difficult to experience the benefits of natural light, as we simply aren’t getting enough of it.

This is where building design and ‘wellness architecture’ come into play. Glazing has an enormously important role to play in providing access to natural light, especially given that people spend so much time indoors. Within a work environment, particularly as people begin to return to the office, having windows that provide as much good quality daylight as possible is key to having a happy, healthy and productive workforce.

This is why Cantifix developed Solstice Glass - the first glazing solution to harness the health benefits of natural light. 

Biophilic Design

Whilst working from home, many people have embraced the opportunity to spend more time outdoors, even if by just having a lunchtime walk or sitting outside in the garden for an hour. Science has shown that a connection with nature is beneficial for morale and productivity, which explains why biophilic design has grown in popularity over the last few years - and many businesses are now seeing an increased incorporation of greenery and natural materials in their offices.

Choices in colour depth and brightness are also set to reflect a more biophilic influence on office spaces, in order to achieve higher levels of employee wellbeing. Some workplace experts have predicted that colour theory will be used in 2021 to raise the mood of employees and ease the experience of returning to work - with green representing new beginnings, growth and renewal, and encouraging motivation.

This kind of wellbeing design all helps to promote a physical place where employees are able to thrive, think creatively and work better.

Technology

The role of technology will have a huge impact on workplaces and people returning, particularly given the influence it can have in terms of creating a safe and healthy office.

With so many people now relying on digital communication, particularly calling, workspace designs need to be transformed ahead of people returning to work too. New workplace technologies like touchless operational systems, hands-free lighting, and behavioural technologies like apps enabling bookable desks, will help staff to feel innovative, communicative, and efficient.

In addition, relating specifically to Covid safety measures, buildings can now have the ability to track and recognise people from smartphone data, ensuring seamless access and contactless journeys into the office. This information can then feed into sanitisation schedules based on those movements. Visitor management systems might use facial, voice and iris recognition technology for tracking, and thermal imaging cameras to gauge body temperature - and even UV light can be used to blitz workspaces each evening, to destroy germs.

Of course, these types of innovative technologies will only be available to a privileged few until costs are more realistic for most businesses.

In the meantime, glass technology has transformed modern architecture, and is already integral to creating dynamic buildings that balance safety, comfort and design - but it will be fundamental to create happy and healthy work spaces post-pandemic. As people return to work, smart glass technology is being integrated to provide an interior environment that is responsive to the evolving needs of employees.

Conclusion

Only the future will reveal the redefinition of office space, as people begin to return to work in a flexible and hybrid way. Post-pandemic workplaces will see a greater focus on health and wellbeing, and increased dependency on technology. And, whilst there is a desire for more flexible space, it’s also important to consider social spaces that enable people to embrace the communal aspects of the workplace.

From Cantifix’s perspective, the glass industry has an important role to play in the architecture of the world post-Covid, and can help create a happier and healthier office space to ensure that all employees experience a welcome return to the workplace. 

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email cantifix at
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