Social distancing has created barriers unlike anything we’ve ever experienced before, and has affected day-to-day lives in many unprecedented ways.
While a handful have returned to the offices, many have resorted to turning their sacred personal space into a makeshift cubicle. Yet it’s only a matter of time before we ditch the comforts of a snuggly hoodie for a suit jacket again. Once people start to return to their places of work, layouts and designs of interior spaces will need to accommodate this new way of life. But what needs to change, and will this be a temporary mindset or a permanent part of our life?
Adam Mundy, global design director at Geyer, already has a few tricks up his sleeve to tackle this new era of office design, and he promises they’ll look good too. After all, the Sydney-based designer has helmed high-profile projects such as the LinkedIn and BNP Paribas offices in New York, the WPP office in Hong Kong. Geyer’s portfolio is equally impressive, with Cathay Pacific’s first business class lounge and Citibank’s Asia Square office in Singapore, as well as the Qantas Lounge in Brisbane.
Despite the majority of people working from home, Mundy believes that offices are still essential, and that includes co-working spaces. “The rapid increase unemployment globally could lead to a rise in entrepreneurialism and even more start-ups. We believe the demand for these spaces will increase as stay-at-home restrictions ease,” he said. “These co-working spaces might even venture beyond central business districts and into neighbourhoods to accommodate this growing entrepreneurial community.”
So begets the million-dollar question: What is it like working in an office post-pandemic?
“One of the observations we have made is that in professional situations, people are able to socially distance with strangers or people they haven’t met before, but are unable to distance from close colleagues. To test this theory, we ran a small briefing workshop in our Sydney studio. The session was held in an open space and had plenty of room. People were able to distance from company to company but as time passed, the distances grew smaller and smaller until it went back to pre-pandemic “normal”. It appears to me that familiarity breeds complacency,” Mundy said.
The design industry will have to adapt quickly to cater to this new frontier of office-working, but Mundy remains optimistic.
“The open office as we know it will no longer be needed. Instead, a ‘dynamic destination’ that enables socially-distanced collaboration and socialisation with colleagues will become paramount to new workplaces. An office filled with desks will also be less favoured post-Covid-19.
It’s too soon to know which changes will be temporary and which will leave lasting impacts. Given the potential for transformative changes impacting our industry, now is the time to think differently, and to consider a future that could be meaningfully different,” he explained.
Here, he shares what the future of office spaces will look like.
If you’re one of those who feel the compulsively need to sanitise your hands after touching communal buttons, the good news is that offices will be tapping on technology to reduce the need to make contact on these areas.
This touch-free tech can range from building and workplace entry, access to lockers, and even operating the coffee machine and printers via an app on the phone. Biometric fingerprint systems could also be replaced by smarter alternatives such as facial recognition or QR codes too.
A bigger focus on materials
“If anything, the pandemic has raised our client’s awareness of anti-microbial materials,” said Mundy. For Geyer, these materials have already been used extensively whenever appropriate, and Mundy indicates there’s a bigger demand for fabrics and surfaces that can be easily cleaned, maintained, and most importantly, be able to withstand heavy-duty caustic products.
This means that porous materials such as natural oil wood might just be phased out by less sensitive options such as stone or laminates, especially for spots in the office that see a high volume of interaction like pantries and bathrooms.
Interestingly, new materials, such as those that mimic sharkskin are getting increasingly popular for its ability to prevent microscopic organisms from adhering. Even old metals like copper, brass and bronze — which have the ability to self-sanitise — might see a revival.
Wellness is also set to take on a bigger role in the workplace, it seems. Mundy reiterates that employees’ health — both mentally and physically — is paramount to productivity and in the long run, the success of the company.
Instead of the stark white rooms that are often associated with cleanable spaces, offices will start to take on a more warm and inviting feel. After all, people will only feel comfortable returning if they provide not only a sense of security, but also an escape from the outside world. Besides natural elements like plants and green walls, colour palettes — chosen specifically for their mood-enhancing or relaxing qualities — will also make spaces feel welcoming and calming and create an oasis for employees.
Spacing and retrofitting
Flexibility will be the new buzzword once people start rethinking their office spaces. Geyer already focuses on providing flexible collaboration and discussion zones that can be configured quickly and easily by its users to suit their needs, whether it’s a quick chat or a full-on meeting amongst teams.
Unseen barriers will also be strategically placed to prevent chaos and anxiety.
“As we design for post-COVID-19, a holistic approach is required to create a balance of spaces to support the arrival, meeting, collaboration, and social process when it comes to visitors and workers in the building.
This is all while allowing enough flexibility for the interchanging and blending of spaces to support different teams’ workflows. With social distancing and density restrictions in place, intuitive design and effective communication — such as signage indicating direct routes — will be key to managing circulation in the office.”
This story first appeared in Lifestyle Asia Singapore.