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What will workspaces look like when they reopen?

Two people in an office passing documents while keeping a distance
Two people in an office passing documents while keeping a distance

The current lockdown has enforced changes in how we work as well as where we work, which raises questions as to how workplaces - including the schools which reopen next week - will evolve.

The new dynamics have showcased two options which will affect how – and where – we work.

Businesses which previously did not consider working from home now have an option which is viable and cuts costs – while allowing employees more autonomy. Many office workers have a renewed appreciation of the benefits of working with a team, making new connections and sharing innovative ideas – and understand collaboration forms the basis for business growth. The avalanche of new users for Zoom as well as other connective technology is evidence enough of the reassurance and dynamism that team working provides.

The two themes of cutting costs and safeguarding employees lead to the question of what the perfect workplace of the future will look like. At its best, office space can act as a catalyst for improving company culture and healthy, vibrant work environments are essential for employees to thrive. A clever design respecting the requirements of individuals and offering diversity in their methods of working will pay dividends.

A few years ago, Coel undertook a major project for Bidwells, following their ambitious plan for the headquarters in Trumpington to become the first truly agile refurbished building in Cambridge. They wanted staff to be rewarded on output and performance rather than the more traditional 9-5 attendance. Staff were given a Surface Pro laptop and a mobile phone each, with the option to work from home or from one of the many different work points.

In the year after the refurbishment was completed, Bidwells found they had made incredible economic and ecological savings as well as having significant improvement in staff retention and wellbeing:

 Electricity costs per head in Bidwell House reduced by 27.5 per cent

 Water costs per head reduced by 31 per cent

 Printing costs fell by 70 per cent

 Stationery costs were reduced by 38 per cent

 Average employee satisfaction levels rose from 53 per cent to around 70 per cent after moving into the refurbished Bidwell House

 Employee sick days have reduced by 23 per cent since adopting an agile way of working.

Coel's fit-out of Ubisense created wide open spaces which allow for social distancing measures to be easily accommodated
Coel's fit-out of Ubisense created wide open spaces which allow for social distancing measures to be easily accommodated

Coel is currently working on a project for an organisation who have chosen to consolidate the three floors that they are currently occupying into one floor. While there are obvious long-term financial gains for our client, it was paramount that the workplace would not be compromised. The team have therefore prioritised creating a workplace which builds community, inspires and motivates staff while also putting a spotlight on employee health.

Safeguarding staff health and wellbeing will take precedence, now more than ever. While working from home is a useful and necessary option at times, the effects of feeling isolated and disconnected from others can have dire consequences on mental health and morale. There is a need to use spaces differently, be flexible and adapt to a changing world.

With the benefit of modern technology and products, Coel can offer:

 Provision of cycling racks to enable staff to cycle rather than get public transport

 Automatic doors at the building entrance to limit contact with surfaces

 For new building plans, larger lift lobbies should be considered to enable fewer occupants on each trip

 Ensure there is easy access to stairs, and multiple staircases allocated as ‘up’ or ‘down’ only

 Introduce ‘one directional’ routes around larger offices to help prevent frequent circulation crossovers when social distancing cannot be maintained

 Flooring signage that remind staff of 2m distancing

 Signage details that provide reminders of expected distancing and protocols

 Levy a practice of keeping desks clear and as a result easier to clean

 Privacy screens can be set up to protect workspaces

 Using materials in the design of the workspace which have antibacterial qualities and are easy to clean and maintain such as wipeable wallpaper, antibacterial carpets and ceiling tiles

 More streamlined spaces which eliminate areas where bacteria and viruses could linger

Bidwells House, Cambridge. Picture: Andrew Wilkinson
Bidwells House, Cambridge. Picture: Andrew Wilkinson

 Review the air conditioning system, update restrooms to provide touch-free door access and ensure the provision of correct supply-and-extract ventilation

 Provide hand sanitisers and handwashing facilities in obvious and accessible locations

 Install touch-free taps in kitchens and bathrooms

 Minimise the use of cupboards and instead have open units and shelves

 Ensure a regular cleaning rota and give staff access to antibacterial gel and sprays

 Invest in smart technology – apps which can call for lifts and track occupancy for different areas of the building

 Plant wellbeing – by providing botanical displays, employees benefit from the positive effects of being near nature and at the same time the plants help purify the air.

All businesses will be looking to invest in a sustainable future by safeguarding staff and at the same time meet their expectations of success. To some extent, the future of the economy depends on getting it right.

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