Mark Grayston looks at the impact on office life post COVID-19

The pandemic has had a profound impact on many aspects of our lives.

While in the short term it will affect behaviours and how we approach certain situations – such as shopping and socialising – it will also drive change in other more foundational and profound ways.

After months of working from hastily constructed home offices, there are signs that a ‘return’ to formal office environments may soon be on the cards.

it’s clear that lockdown has had a profound effect on the wants and needs of staff and businesses

Mark Grayston Mark Grayston Head of the Product Marketing Department.

Ongoing concerns

However, with ongoing concerns about the transmission spiking again were we all to immediately return to pre-lockdown office conditions, reverting to our offices of old is simply not feasible without measures being put in place.

Lots of offices will be urgently putting up partitions, installing hand sanitizer stations and denoting one-way systems as an immediate response to accommodate returning employees.

Beyond that, there is also a wider feeling among architects, designers and end user businesses that offices should be fundamentally designed to weather future eventualities.

With that in mind, we explore some of the key considerations for building tomorrow’s offices.

Building offices like hospitals

Undoubtedly any future office design will need to put hygiene at its heart.

With the pandemic making employees hyperaware of health risks, the setup of the office will have to allay their fears if we’re to see a rebound in staff confidence.

In the long-term, this might mean designing offices more like hospitals – using materials that can withstand heavy cleaning with caustic products, for example.

It could also mean a higher occurrence of sinks around offices to increase the incidence of handwashing, or more direct routes planned through the office to decrease the time getting from point A to B.   

Hands-free offices

This focus on hygiene and maintaining a sterilised environment could also lead to the rise of the ‘contactless’ office.

Instead of communal buttons designed for admittance, it might be that designers look to use smartphone technology to unlock doors – this could even be used for the likes of communal coffee machines or summoning elevators.

By extension, meeting rooms could be fitted with voice activated technology to turn on lights and screens.

Office toilets could also be provisioned with sensors, to avoid staff having to manually flush or touch the taps.

The rise of the Internet of Things in recent years has made the technology required to carry out these sorts of functions commonplace – so these wouldn’t necessarily be prohibitively expensive additions.

The end of open plan?     

While open plan office design has been in vogue over the last few years, the pandemic may signal a shift away from designing open by default.

Not only does open plan make social distancing difficult, there’s also a chance that a number of companies may adopt a far more flexible approach to office attendance in the coming years.

With less employees physically travelling into offices, we could see organisations look more towards smaller hubs and rota’d working patterns.  

Air quality: a key consideration

Among the various things to come out of the last few weeks, the pandemic has undeniably put indoor air quality under a microscope.

At the start of April, REHVA (Federation of European Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning Association) offered guidance on operating and using building services to impede the spread of the coronavirus. The key message is to supply buildings with as much outside air as possible and to avoid recirculation.

This is a key consideration for those designing offices in the aftermath of the pandemic. Hospitals are designed with effective ventilation at the core – it doesn’t seem too farfetched to reason that the same thinking could be applied to office environments in the future.

Learning process

Naturally, the way we think about office design in the future will the informed by what we know about the virus – and as I’m sure all of us are aware, the world’s scientists are still yet to truly understand it.

Regardless of what we may learn in months and years ahead, it’s clear that lockdown has had a profound effect on the wants and needs of staff and businesses.

The office of the future will need to reflect all of these disparate elements to ensure that employees are happy, healthy and confident in their return to the office.   

Mark Grayston is Head of the Product Marketing Department.