I invite you to think about what ‘the office’ means to you. Most people think of lots of chairs, people sat at desks (probably the same desk every day), possibly a few meeting rooms dotted here and there, and a restaurant, kitchen or café – but otherwise an altogether routine, and if I might say so, institutional working experience.
Which is why, with the drive to take people out of the workplace to protect them from Covid and invite them to work from home, it is now an opportunity for both employers and employees to reflect on their experiences. Whilst employers are realising that offices are expensive places to run, from the employee’s perspective, a lot of workers have experienced more choice and flexibility in this last 12-15 months working from home than perhaps they ever had when they were based in an office!
The return to the office for many people is actually a very unpalatable concept.
We often describe these pre-Covid offices as a bit like battery farms. Picture office workers pecking away at their keyboards in rows and rows of desks. We know how unhealthy battery farming is for chickens, so it’s definitely, we believe, unhealthy for human beings. What we would rather see is companies thinking of their employees as ‘free range’… Read on below.
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The fact is, human beings are complicated. We have complex mental and emotional needs, and if those needs aren’t met, we don’t perform at our best. Whilst we agree that physical well-being is vitally important, I would say mental and emotional well-being are equally as important. That’s why this ‘battery farming’ approach is outdated and no longer the best use of space.
It’s important to acknowledge that over the past 15 months, people have worked hard under very difficult conditions, and I think it’s fair to say that we’ve all learned so much as a result. Perhaps that is why inviting your staff to come back and sit at the same desk to peck at the same keyboard is no longer an appealing option for many.
The idea of creating variety for people is a very significant factor in what we believe should be standard office design practice. Some ideas you can implement in your office include:
This realisation that physical, mental and emotional well-being is core to business success is obvious when you think about it. If your people are the most important asset to your business, you need to make sure that they’re healthy. Because if they’re healthy they’ll be happy, and if they’re happy they’ll be productive… and from a business point of view, if they’re productive they’re profitable!
The important thing here is that this ‘free range’ practice scales across every type of business. From businesses with a couple of employees to a couple of thousand employees, we have worked on some of the largest physical offices in Europe, and we’ve worked with businesses that have five or ten people total. The principles are the same… it’s people-first.
Whatever you design or build, you need to have a clear picture in your head of what it’s doing for your people.
The notion that one person sits at one desk, for eight hours a day, is now ridiculous. Why would you expect people to be able to do everything they need to in one location?
Clever office design creates diversity, variety and the stimulation people need, whilst also enabling privacy. We recommend creating places for people to mix and socialise, and give them the tech to enable them to access the information they need, when they need it, wherever they need it. An important part of being human is our need to communicate, build teams and work together. So whilst we’ve shared some very specific examples today, you can imagine there are as many examples as there are people in the world frankly!
By creating a great office environment that supports a culture of empowering your people, you will deliver fantastic results for your customers.