The office is no longer just a place of work. It now needs to provide a feeling of comfort and community in order to prosper, advises Ollie Plastow, director at Consensus Workspace.
2020 has been quite a year for HR and workplace professionals – and 2021 looks set to continue in much the same way, as we look at how to recover, while ensuring the mental and physical health of our workforces.
If allowed, getting back into a routine will be essential for many employees, after spending the best part of 12 months in a state of semi-isolation. For others however, the thought of returning to an office full of people could lead to anxiety, after working from home for so long.
Getting the balance right will be key and the workplace needs to provide comfort and support, while staying safe and enforcing social distancing. Here are some ways an office interior can provide a feeling of safety while supporting post Covid rules.
Bring colour in
The boardroom at Consensus Workspace has been filled with colours from the Dulux Colour Futures palette. The pinks and mauves are warm and welcoming and move away from the intimidating cliché of the boardroom. We have a thick multilevel loop carpet tile and this all works together with the aim of evoking a feeling of home, through comfort and familiarity. People need to feel relaxed in the office, some of those home comforts need to be replicated.
Open it up
Opening up the workplace as much as possible will be essential. This doesn’t necessarily mean huge building contracts: the removal of dividers and interior walls will help with ventilation and to manage a one-way system. At the same time, the outside should be embraced, with walking meetings encouraged and exercise and fresh air incorporated into the working day.
At the time of writing, social distancing shows no sign of ending. It doesn’t need to have an impact on the effectiveness or ambience of the office, however. Clever use of plants, paint effects, flooring, and furniture means that these elements, which already provide a comforting role, can now help ensure people keep their distance from one another. The aim is to ensure people automatically stay a bit further apart, without impacting on the atmosphere or aesthetics – meaning people are comfortable, and creativity can still flourish.
Almost half of UK companies say sustainability is key to their growth plans and 66% plan to improve their internal practices, according to HSBC’s Made for the Future Report. It’s a huge priority, particularly for the younger generations: climate change is the number one concern for Generation Z. Your workplace can illustrate your commitment to this quite well through the materials you use. Choose suppliers who incorporate recycled, responsible and reused natural materials – vegan furniture, cotton, hemp, cork, bamboo – it automatically helps to reduce carbon footprints.
Nature can then easily be reflected and accessed through the rest of your space by creating space for unobstructed views, access to fresh air, plant life and the correct temperature and sounds. Biophilia – the use of nature – is proven to have a positive impact on mental health, with American psychologist Eric Fromm first coining the term in the 1970s, describing what he saw as an innate love of nature in humans. Studies have shown that office workers’ quality of life can be enriched by office landscaping: even if plants have no formal function, they lift the mood: and happy workers are more productive workers.
The workplace needs to adapt – along with everything else – to ensure people feel comfortable returning if they are needed. This is not just about work anymore, this is about company and community, as well as economy. It is about creating a space where people can thrive, feel safe and be productive, for now and for the long term.