Stop, think and plan! TTSP - helping occupiers design for the ‘new normal’ workplace

There’s a huge buzz around the future of the office and occupiers are trying to find the route to identifying and creating the new normal whilst we implement plans for return to the office. Our thoughts at TTSP focus on what our workplaces will look like and how they will support us going forward.

FM teams nationwide have been busy installing directional arrows, hazard tape and revised occupancy plans to manage the return to the workplace yet only around 35% of UK office workers have done so as opposed to almost 80% on the continent. This is in part influenced in major cities by limitations in public transport capacity and social distancing regulations. The tube network in London can currently operate (Sept ‘20) at around 15% of normal, peak travel capacity. We should be sure that any budget for return to work is not spent on measures that may never be used and irrelevant by the time a full return to work is possible.

We have had over 50 years of evolution in the workplace arena and only 23 weeks experience of enforced disruption to our normal patterns. Is this enough to change our thinking in what works best for people and organisations? Are we going to design for ongoing pandemic in a post-pandemic world?

A number of prominent organisations announced early on that they would no longer be providing large centralised offices in favour of home-working and hubs presumably to save on RE costs. A couple have backtracked on this already, having realised the implications a new organisational structure carries with it.

The global Coronavirus outbreak has given added legitimacy to the case for home working. Many argue that they are more efficient working from home and can use the time lost to commuting to work more flexibly. The use of virtual platforms has supported communication and meetings and proved that teams can still work remotely. There is a view from this quarter that much of the UK workforce would opt to work from home at least part of the time if given the choice. If employers agree to this change of terms and expectations will this result in occupiers needing less space in the future?

There is another view that offices should become less densely occupied and become a branded hub for staff to visit and work from on a drop-in or space-booking basis. This is similar to colocation workspace options already widely available in the market. There is an obvious cost issue related to providing more spacious workplaces for people. Perhaps one of the outcomes is an increase in virtual meeting spaces and single-person concentration pods. One result of our recent experience is that we have seen we could travel less to meetings and become more reliant on technology for these interfaces. This would drive a re-evaluation of the use floor space and the split between individual and shared facilities.

On the other hand there are many organisations that recognise the challenges involved in developing and supporting virtual teams. Recruitment, remote team building, staff integration, mentoring and on-boarding of new people are cited as major concerns that are not best addressed over virtual platforms. Culture is another thing that is very difficult to deliver over a computer link. The need for social interaction is an intrinsic human trait and our industry peers have widely agreed that the one thing they miss at the moment is people.

There are further generational issues with WFH, younger staff members often live at home or in shared accommodation due to the cost of living. Working remotely for these people may be from a bedroom or dining table, often with others present who are in the same position. This adds two more areas of concern in physical and mental well-being. How can employers maintain well-being beyond the physical extents of the workplace and what liability or duty of care will this create in the future? This is equally applicable to all generations at work.

Firms will need to factor in the aspirations of those joining the workforce and how they will maintain competitive advantage in the attraction and retention of new talent.

All of these areas raise further questions. There is no single issue that outweighs the others at the moment. Organisations have much to learn and think about in terms of what the ‘new normal’ will be. This is a complex equation for employers but one that is vital to creating the workplace of the future.

Now is the time to think and develop a vision that will take the business forward. There is a renewed importance in inclusive dialogue across organisations that engages Senior Leadership, HR, Branding, Finance, IT, Employee Representation, FM and of course Real Estate.

Our current thinking is focussed towards supporting our clients create an aspiring, collaborative and safe workplace for their people with the flexibility to enable change and reconfiguration as the situation continues to evolve both locally and globally.

As Workplace Consultants and Designers we have an understanding of these elements and the way they are brought together in the creation of workspaces. Design will support businesses in creating and delivering environments that will take us to the next era of work settings and working patterns but it is imperative that the brief is well considered. This also requires monitoring and frequent re-evaluation as we move towards a post-pandemic society and world of commerce.

We would be delighted to add our thinking and ideas to the evolution of your organisational planning and the creation of ‘new normal’ workspaces to support your future.