The office space as we know it has evolved over the years, from prioritizing productivity to prioritizing collaboration. This year, the nature of the office is set to evolve again, placing greater emphasis on employee safety and wellbeing.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the recent changes the modern workspace has gone through and where we are headed.
Quick History of Modern Office Spaces
The modern office has had its fair share of experimental designs. In the early 1930s, the open office plan was developed to maximize space. By removing walls and borders, the goal was to increase productivity by promoting social interaction between coworkers. The design philosophy was called Taylorism, or “Scientific Management”, and soon found its way into countless American workplaces.
While the idea made sense on paper, it soon became apparent that the new office design felt more like a factory rather than a space that promotes collaboration. Big rooms were packed to the brim with employees. The environment was cramped and noisy, with little opportunity for interaction, let alone getting work done.
There was little concern for physical and mental health when it came to office design. One of the remedies to improve the open office was the application of cubicles. The goal was to bring back privacy in the office while cutting costs in designing for the influx of new workers. Unfortunately due to the lack of safety regulations, the material used to produce cubicles also made workers sick.
Today, employee health and wellbeing is now a priority for architects and designers. The rise of coworking spaces has also made companies consider trendier and more human-centric designs. It’s no secret that an increasing number of startups are seeking out office spaces, company branding and image is greatly influenced by the look and feel of their offices.
Increased Office Hygiene Focus
This year has prompted companies to focus on improving the safety and hygiene of their offices. As lockdown restrictions ease, employees are slowly heading back into the office. Employers are now looking for solutions to enforce social distancing at work without hindering productivity. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), social distancing is one of the effective measures in reducing the transmission of disease.
Hygiene at work should now be a priority as well. This can be achieved in numerous ways. To start, wearing face masks and some form of personal protective equipment (PPE) should be a new standard for office attire. Companies and building owners can hang signs to help remind employees of general hygiene practices such as limiting physical contact and the proper way to wash hands. New sanitization equipment must be installed as well. Hand sanitizers and wet wipes should be easily accessed by employees, or better yet if each employee is provided their own to reduce transmission from sharing equipment.
Avoid crowding areas or high-traffic zones. If possible, employees can adopt rotating workdays and flexible work hours for their employees. Not only will this practice drastically reduce transmission but it will also help in contact tracing should employees become infected.
What Employees Want in a Workspace
As a leader, it’s important to focus on listening to the team’s feedback and concerns around a particular space so that you can know which equipment to invest in and how to best arrange the office.
Companies tend to spend a lot on perks and wellness programs for employees. Examples of these are office gyms, standing desks, meditation rooms, and massage rooms. Although it’s nice to have these benefits, ask your team whether the benefits are something they would even use, otherwise you may risk a misplaced investment.
One survey evaluated what North American workers valued in their workspace, and found that the most sought out features were the office basics: clean air, natural light, and personalization. Despite the extravagant campuses used by major enterprises, it turns out that all people need to stay focused is a space that has proper ventilation, lighting, and a sense of personality. No surprise here: each person works differently and while some might perform better in closed, private rooms where they can zone in, others prefer being outside with natural light and fresh air. Having the option to choose where and how you work is important for employees.
Coworking spaces have become popular in recent years due to spaciousness and opportunities to network with other people. This collaborative workspace design can be adopted by bigger companies to enhance employee interaction. The open floor plan that was popular in the mid 20th century can appear dated when compared to the colorful, playground-esque aesthetic of office spaces today. In the future, we can expect to see a greater emphasis on cleanliness and protection.
Advantages of Flexible Workspaces
One of the biggest advantages of having flexible workspaces is networking and employee bonding. This was the original intention of the open floor design. The difference is, however, that employees don’t feel forced to interact with other employees if they don’t feel like it. What the plan was missing back then was the flexibility for employees to choose.
Now, companies empower their employees by allowing them to control their environment. This not only helps the company but allows the individual to improve their work habits. Employees are able to easily step out of their circle and collaborate with other departments when needed. This helps individuals improve their networking among other skills.
The corporate culture is slowly changing and moving towards a more modular, less traditional landscape. Employees are empowered to work how and when they want (within reason). Now more than ever, companies should embrace change and not be afraid to experiment. Each company and each employee is different. Leaders should initiate dialogue with employees to find out what they value most. Doing so allows you to focus on areas that would bring in immediate positive results, rather than wasting resources on perks that employees might not even bother with. The future of office spaces will be determined by the teams thoroughly analyzing and improving on them today.