It is fair to say thinking about office design now when so many of us are working from home does seem a little odd, but offices will return and there is a lot businesses can do to make them better for people and the environment.
So, what should you be thinking with your office design, now and in the future?
Hot and cold
Keeping an office at a good working temperature is really important. As many people have worked out at home, trying to be productive in a cold or overly hot room is really hard. Traditionally offices had large air conditioning systems that helped maintain the right temperature. However, since COVID-19 air con may not be the best solution because of the air flow issue. There is also another impact of AC and that is on the environment. While newer systems are much better they still use a lot of energy. Solar control is a process by which building designers are able to mitigate the net gain in heat that comes from sunlight hitting windows. There are lots of types of solar shading from giant metal sheets that change angle throughout the day to highly effective microlourve mesh. This meshes have been shown to reduce air conditioning use substantially just by cutting some of the light. A company called Smart Lourve actually make a mesh from recycled copper wire and after its 60+ year life span the mesh can be 100% recycled!
It may not immediately seem very important but lighting has a massive impact on staff wellbeing, productivity, mental health and more. Lighting can turn a harsh high pressured workplace into somewhere people feel able to be creative and enjoy coming too. Conversely if its done wrong it can cause headaches, add to stress levels and more. Companies like SAS create office and commercial lighting systems take lighting very seriously and all businesses should be doing the same as we move into the second decade of this century.
We are all getting pretty used to be apart from people, the 2 metre rule is becoming very much part of daily life and it is highly likely that at least some of the distancing practices will remain after COVID is less of an issue. There may be other pandemics in the future and businesses really do not want to have to change again if there are. But distancing may actually help keep some more general office illnesses down and reduce sick days which can only be a good thing. Screen, partitioning and office layouts will all maintain some level of COVID inspired measures so any business looking at future office changes should keep this in mind.
As with distancing, hand washing and sanitisers are here to stay. While the need may drop away culturally it is highly likely people will still expect to sanitise their hands throughout the working day. Like the distancing this should help reduce things like stomach bugs going round offices. Planning in stations for washing and gel is going to be a must and, again, not something to be seen as a short term thing in terms of work places.
As already mentioned, reducing a businesses carbon footprint is now going to become more and more important in office design. COVID-19 may seem like the crisis to end all crisis but climate change could well be worse. While COVID has forced companies to focus on the issues at hand the under lying need to reduce the impact of climate change is massive. Travel has dropped which is great, but offices and workplaces need to be looking to reduce their impact when things are more back to normal. Better recycling, more renewable energy supply, better insulation and heating systems will all be required. So while it does all feel very much “all about COVID” it is critical businesses are planning for a bigger and bigger focus on climate change as we move out of the pandemic situation.