The government-mandated social distancing rules of recent months have given many businesses a crash course in remote working, whether they wanted to be part of it or not. From a staff point of view, taking the daily commute off the table was one immediate benefit, while anecdotal reports of increased productivity would be welcome news for employers.
While an easing of COVID-19 restrictions in Western Australia means workers are heading back to the office, some businesses are weighing up the pros and cons of remote working and imagining what the workplace of the future will look like.
Woods Bagot workplace interior design leader Stirling Fletcher said Twitter was one of many companies that had already come out publicly pushing for permanent working from home arrangements post COVID-19.
However, while interior trends such as open-plan design, increased greenery or colour schemes changed with the fashion of the time, Mr Fletcher is confident that face-to-face interaction will never go out of style.
“That has happened before, where organisations have tried the pure work from home, and so far it’s inevitably ended in some sort of coming back together, but at both a workplace and a social level, what that’s failed to recognise is that we are, at our core, social creatures.” Mr Fletcher told Business News. “But at both a workplace and a social level, what that’s failed to recognise is that we are, at our core, social creatures. “
Mr Fletcher said while there was an immediate need to reconfigure spaces in line with virus-related hygiene requirements, Woods Bagot had workshopped several possible future office scenarios influenced by COVID-19.
These were largely based on the shift towards agile workstations of recent years, based on the premise of ‘a desk for the day’, with the pandemic additionally heightening awareness of a community-based approach.
“Some of the futurists have proposed this concept that we actually start to rely on more satellite and community-based environments – offers that exist within the predominant communities within proximity to people’s homes,” Mr Fletcher said.
“Maybe the workplace will become a bit more club oriented … purely a mechanism of getting people together to collaborate, while focus work is still undertaken at people’s homes.”
Mr Fletcher also anticipated COVID-19 would accelerate the existing trend of outsourcing space, with organisations opting for co-working spaces such as WeWork and Spacecubed to accommodate project fluctuations.
Technology is paramount for flexibility
Spacecubed founder and managing director Brodie McCulloch said the organisation had been rolling out ‘team desking’, where businesses could book desks for the day, prompted by companies seeking extra space.
“A lot of organisations already have too many people for their offices (to comply with social distancing), so they’re now providing other options or they’re choosing to downsize their offices because a lot of people are finding that their staff are enjoying working from home,” Mr McCulloch said.
“I think that’s where flexible spaces and co-working spaces like ours will be able to supply that demand where people can’t just sign a lease on a few more desks in a normal building they need to sign up for months or a few years, whereas with us they can book for the day or the week for however much they need.”
IA Design, the state’s largest interior design practice according to the BNiQ database, has worked on co-working spaces including on Riff, which is part of Spacecubed. IA Design regional director WA/Asia Nicholas O’Hara said these spaces sought to blend the worlds of home and work, and expected COVID-19 to promote that trend.
“We were and certainly are now providing environments that are welcoming, warm and homely within the workplace,” Mr O’Hara told Business News.
“The market was hot [pre COVID-19] and probably the most exciting time in the market in about five years.”
Mr O’Hara said while many projects were put on hold when the lockdown began, inquiries had started to flow again during the past fortnight. “It’s nowhere near the same level of inquiry we had before, but there is absolutely confidence coming back into the market,” he said. “Among all of this, the key to workplace design will be flexibility.”
Hames Sharley interior design principal Hollie Raymond-Baker also placed importance on creating greater flexibility.
“A professional colleague commented they had their most productive conversations on the phone pacing in the backyard,” Ms Raymond-Baker said. “It’s our job to translate these growing extremes on environment into functional spaces within workplace design.”
During the past 12 months Hames Sharley has added one more interior designer to its WA team, lifting it one place on the BNiQ database.
Ms Raymond-Baker said smaller projects in particular had felt the COVID-19 pinch, affected by a lack of funding certainty.
“This ranges from commercial to residential to smaller retail and hospitality; I cannot imagine many pubs or restaurants being designed in the immediate future,” she said.
“Our industry is creative and resilient, and uniting together as one broader design community encourages not only support for one another, but contributes to rebuilding Australia.”
MKDC Design Consultants director Kath Kusinski said some of the organisation’s recent projects had already taken spatial metrics into account, to ensure workspaces were a minimum 1800mm wide.
“This accommodates the 1500 mm separation. Meeting areas and collaboration areas are more of a challenge for office workers so that as a general rule, if every second chair is removed the four-square metres per person rule should be achieved,” Ms Kusinski said.
“When we designed the 9,600sqm Joondalup project for DWER, we based the design on a Hybrid Agility model, this solution ensures that every person not only has their own desk which is 1800mm wide, but an alternative place to work such as an open collaboration area, focus room or quiet pod or meeting room.
“More recently we designed the new offices for Mitsui-MEPAU in Exchange Tower. The same one to one ratio was applied with 1800mm wide desks and the collaboration areas and project rooms, focus pods and meeting rooms will give every person an alternative place to sit.
This article was written by Katie McDonald for Business News and can be found here https://www.businessnews.com.au/article/Shutdown-an-opportunity-to-redraw-office-blueprint
“Technology is paramount for flexibility.”