Workplaces are reopening in the new year as countries dole out Covid vaccines, and as the new wave of the coronavirus hits the world over. What many had thought to be a short schtick in 2019/2020 has turned out to be one of the most dangerous viruses to ever hit the human population. Cleanliness, social distancing, and minimal physical interactions remain the order of the day.
There is no greater exemplary effect of the coronavirus pandemic than its influence on the modern-day working culture. More and more companies continue to work from home or adopt a hybrid working style to encourage social distancing in the workplace. This new movement in response to Covid has been famously initiated by giant tech companies in Silicon Valley, like Facebook.
However, this raises concerns among experts about the efficacy of abrupt adoption of a remote work style, as fears about creating a “ghost-town” in these business districts abound. Mundane office actions like having a quick chat over the copier, or bumping into a colleague at the coffee machine seem so 2019 as many employees now work from home, and the few who come in are required to socially distance themselves. Humans are social animals, and it can be argued that we require a minimal level of daily human interaction to emotionally bond with our colleagues. But what role can interior design play to intercept this gap?
This year shines a bright ray of hope as businesses gradually resume physically across the globe. Even as the second wave of the coronavirus continuous to ravage the rest of the world, companies have come to adapt to this new way of living and working. Many are going back to the traditional offices, and redesigning the way they work in order to support a growing work culture despite covid. The question thus is, “How will the workplace interior design change in response to the Coronavirus this 2021?”
This article will address some of the growing design adaptations and predict how the modern workplace may become different for the rest of the new year.
Without a doubt, natural materials are great mental therapy and can help to keep a balance within our physical environment. This is in part due to the organic nature of natural elements that tend to dissipate positive energy across the workplace in what the Chinese may know as the principles of Feng Shui.
2021 may see a spike in the introduction of natural elements like stone, wood, or indoor plants into the workplace. These elements may be incorporated into the workplace design in the form of green walls, heavyset planters with elegant flamboyant indoor plants, or a water feature in the reception space. However, many seem to overlook the powerful effect of simple natural lighting. Natural lighting can quickly transform the workplace from a factory-feel closed-off space into a hub of creativity and excitement. Employees will tend to be excited about what they do if their environment motivates this excitement by implying some “psychological freedom” inspired by nature.
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Nevertheless, green plants offer a similar effect when strategically incorporated in the workplace. Due to the nature of the workplace, the most effective choice of greenery would be low-maintenance and cost-effective planting options. As appealing and convenient as faux planting may seem, we recommend it should be heavily avoided.
Maintaining the Distance
Workplace designs may see a slight shift to accommodate social distancing measures among employees. In recent years, numerous companies have come to adopt the open-plan office layout as an effective way to reduce the politics of internal hierarchy and increase emotional connection in the workplace. However, this design feature may prove to be more than just a cost-saving and psychologically-motivated design feature. Open office plans may also be the solution to reducing the spread of the virus as it offers greater flexibility in observing the 6 feet social distancing measures put in place by most government authorities. Cubicles and packed office spaces may be a thing of the past as establishments start to embrace the new normal in the workplace.
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To further support the need for social distancing, workplaces have begun to adopt what is now known as the hybrid work style where a percentage of its employees work from home while the remaining resume at physical office locations. Sometimes, this arrangement is alternated among employees to reduce crowding in the workplace. In response to this, we may begin to see an increased demand for collaborative tools that support fully or partially distributed working arrangements. 2020 has already seen an insane boom for a digital tool like Zoom that enables employees to hold virtual meetings and sessions on a whim. Additional tools that may see increased demand are Slack, Zoho workplace, or other co-working tools that support employee collaboration and bridge the physical gap brought about by the Coronavirus pandemic. One of such arrangements made some by companies in Sydney is the implementation of desk-booking systems to support employee collaboration and bridge the physical gap brought about by the Coronavirus pandemic. Worthy of note is the innovative response of human behaviour where employees have increased the popularity of virtual cocktail sessions or parties. Before the pandemic, this was hardly a thing!
On the other hand, we may see a surge in the demand for connected whiteboards such as Google’s Jamboard, Microsoft’s Surface Hub and Samsung’s Flip. These visual tools will be expected to greatly increase the smooth collaboration of distributed teams in the workplace. With this, usual office activities such as brainstorming will be carried out simultaneously and as a team regardless of the physical locations of the employees. This is welcome technology advancement in the modern workplace.
As it relates to design, we may see an increasing trend where less physical desk spaces are allocated to employees depending on the level of distribution of the team structure. Beyond collaboration, enterprises may also seek to introduce advanced technological features in the physical workplace. This brings us to our next point which is contactless technology.
The introduction of contactless technology in the workplace to curb the spread of the virus is a no-brainer. With the immediate priority being health and safety, companies may start to introduce voice-activated devices or motion sensors in a scenario that had previously required physical contact. For instance, voice-activated coffee machines, doors with motion sensors or even contactless faucets. For example, TAL’s new office interior at 363 George Street features some of that technology. This is a great leap forward for the technological world as it will gradually normalize the use of Ai in the workplace, without a doubt. For instance, Zaha Hadid Architect’s new headquarters for the Bee’ah waste management company in Sharjah, UAE is a great architectural innovation. The design is lush with contactless features that require minimal physical interaction among its users. This may be the future of modern workplaces.
Sustainability and Flexibility
Sustainability has been on the human mind for decades now, with the raging Australian fires and the melting ice caps, but the coronavirus has by far been the most awakening phenomenon to get people into consciously making sustainable design decisions. This is due to the realization of the fleeting nature of what normalcy could be. The previous year had quickly swept familiarity from beneath our feet and replaced it with absolute panic and uncertainty. It is safe to say that many companies have begun to make decisions they consider will be maximally sustainable and flexible with unpredictable changes that may come over time.
Colour has always been a strong determinant of employee attitude and moods in the physical workplace. Now more than ever, colour may play a huge role in the modern workplace design in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The psychology of colour may influence how happy or productive your employees may be within their physical space.
In many ways, workplaces are trying to bring comfort to the office without disrupting employee productivity. The use of colour will play a major role in achieving this. Bright colours like yellow may increase excitement in shared leisure spaces like the lunchroom, while a neutral colour like white may inspire creativity. The ultimate choice of colours will be dependent on your brand and surrounding mood you are looking to create in any given space within the workplace.
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The new year is expected to see a strong evolution in the modern workplace as we gradually embrace the new way of life. Intelligent design and technology has continued to allow us to strategically adapt or evolve our way of life in response to surrounding uncertainties. Even as fears continue to rise from the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, our way of working will continue to change in response to the effect of these new strains of the virus.
To remain relevant and to continue thriving, it is paramount that workplaces quickly put in measures to adapt to the pandemic situation while keeping employee health and safety at the centre of its considerations. Which of these changes are your workplace currently undergoing and how has it affected your company work culture? Tell us in the comment section below!