Return to the Office – Are Flexible Fit Workplaces the Future?

Return to the Office – Are Flexible Fit Workplaces the Future? 

We are interested in reading the various market sources’ opinions on the return to the office after COVID. At EMC Projects, we have our own views as well as our own interpretations of what our clients and their design teams are saying on the matter. This is going to be one of the most important discussions in the coming months and years, so we are keen to share our thoughts with you. We also welcome your thoughts on the matter. 

I think we can all say how relieved we are that after a year of the pandemic, we will have a choice of how we return to work. Whether it’s full time in the office, or some form of blended or hybrid way of work. We are considering each and every possibility for ourselves and our clients. 

In our world of fast-track interior contracting fit out & refurbishment, we are ready to help our clients and their design teams get their staff back into their workplace. As we now enter the relaxation of government restrictions, we are seeing a strong demand from the larger PLCs and SMEs who are beginning to put plans in place to get their teams back into the office in some way. 

Flexible Workplaces 

A recent report from JLL stated that workplaces of the future will be versatile and hybrid, focusing on employee-centric solutions, as stated in a survey of more than 2000 office workers across ten countries. It is clear that employees are eager to maintain the flexibility of widespread remote working. This method has grown in popularity over the last year with the average work schedule being looked at as 2.5 days working from home. Interestingly, 80% of high performers have missed their office workplace greatly during lockdown. 

With the downward pressures of COVID, recession and Brexit, we have seen extreme caution in development and preparation for getting teams back into the workplace. However, with the statistics and data in its current position, we can all see people and business being more positive. There’s light at the end of the tunnel. Confidence in the markets and the economic recovery is increasing, and business knows we need to get ready. 

At the start of Lockdown, the popular opinion was for more remote working and less working from an office. As the pandemic progressed, wellbeing and the practicalities of the situation came more into focus and the scales rebalanced to show an appetite for a mix of both. This was mirrored across all sizes of business. However, in a recent KPMG report it was confirmed that most major global companies no longer plan to reduce the use of their office space after the coronavirus pandemic. 

Just 17% of chief executives plan to cut back on offices, down from 69% in an August 2020 survey. Either downsizing has already taken place or plans have changed as the impact of extended, unplanned, remote working has taken a toll on some employees. 

The new new normal? 

Indeed, the efficiency and practicality of working from home with insufficient suitable and safe working conditions exist in both the physical boundaries of our homes, and also dealing with our families young and old in the restrictions. 

The report also interestingly stated that more than 75% of chief executives also wanted the Government to encourage people to return to the office and workplaces before employers themselves started to request it. We have all seen the ghost town and city centres over the last few months and it is surreal. 

People’s needs will be different than before the pandemic. It is up to us to facilitate solutions for the various market sectors in which EMC deliver throughout Scotland and the UK. 

After such a prolonged period of restricted, reduced or removed revenue streams from our businesses, will we have the capital to make the investment required to get our teams back into the workplace? Businesses may need to look at funding or leasing measures. At EMC we have several options available that we can help introduce you to. 

We need to look at building our future now in a different marketplace to what ourselves and generations before us knew. 

 

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Adaptive Workplaces 

We need our workplace to be a Future Flexible Fit for our own business needs and to accommodate our teams. COVID has brought disastrous consequences to Scotland, the UK or indeed the World. We need to design with full flexibility in mind to protect our business and our teams. 

Various reports tell us there are a minority who wish to work full time from home, a large percentage who want to return full time to the workplace and the majority believing a blended or hybrid way of working is the solution for them and the employer. 

We believe this to be the case and with this in mind, businesses can look to work more flexibly and more efficiently in their current – adapted – workplace. 

Flore Pradere, Research Director at JLL states: “the COVID-19 crisis has incited a massive paradigm shift in the world of work. To adapt to this new normal, the future of work must be reimagined to focus on the needs and preferences of a liquid workforce. This means offering employee-centric solutions that value choice and flexibility to optimise employee experiences and performance.” 

The JLL report also states that traditional priorities have been deeply challenged during the pandemic. 72% of employees believe work life balance is more important than salary, and 69% indicate that living consciously and healthily is as important as finding purpose in their job 

Over recent years people have wanted to change the workplace in so many ways. There has been a focus on greater wellbeing. 

Some of the measures that have been pioneered are: 

  • Breakout spaces 
  • Collaborative spaces 
  • Quiet zones 
  • Coaching zones 
  • Better air quality 
  • Better lighting 
  • Cleaner environments 
  • More sustainable/environmentally friendly offices 
  • Facilitating cycling and running to work 
  • Showers, lockers etc
  • Car charging facilities 
  • Workplaces which are close to public transport stations 

We will explore these in more detail in future blogs which all tie into this series of focusing on our return to the office. 

The Evening Standard confirmed at the end of March that the Chair of Planning Committee from City of London Corporation was seeing confidence in the city office market from developers, investors and occupiers. We can see in various reports and sources that this is not just in London, it’s throughout cities and towns across the UK and here in Scotland. 

The Evening Standard also confirmed that in their poll of FTSE 100 businesses showed numerous chief executives are eying a more flexible working future. 

However, let’s look at some of the areas which you need to be looking at and which we can support you in this journey. It has to be said that works should start as soon as possible as all businesses will be endeavouring to do the same to fit their specific requirements. There are only so many good quality electrical contractors such as EMC who specialise in electrical interior office fit out & refurbishment along with all other electrical work across various markets. 

Things you’ll need to consider to return to the office: 

  • Understanding what your team and business needs to go to the next level 
  • Define and redefine the purpose and requirements of each space 
  • Engage and discuss with your teams 
  • Design with expert support and guidance 
  • Share and communicate ambitions and plans with the teams and make final refinements 
  • Engage with expert electrical contractors who know and understand the requirements of fit out & refurbishment projects in tight demanding timescales and budgets 
  • Complete the approach with reviews of how the spaces work and make final tweaks if required 
  • Continue to engage and challenge each other in how best we can continue to develop our workplaces 
  • Consider working with an expert electrical contractor, interior consultant & furniture specialist company in a design & build (D&B) basis to accelerate and mitigate risk in cost and timescale with a one-stop turkey solution 

The office and workplaces have changed. This is our chance to remove preconditioned restrictions which inhibit the development of ourselves and our businesses. There are better and more efficient ways of working which we need to develop and form as our new way of working when we return to the office. 

Staff Expectations for Return to the Office 

In Steelcase`s report for “Changing Expectations and the Future of Work”, they engaged with more than 30,000 people in 10 countries to poll what people need and expect from their return to the office. 

New Health & Safety Priorities. To be safe and Feel safe. 

  • 73% Air Quality 
  • 73% Adherence to Safety Protocols 
  • 72% Facility Cleanliness 
  • 71% Physical Distancing 
  • 69% Density 
  • 66% Visitor Protocols 
  • 59% Food & Drinks safety 

Feeling isolated from remote home working is the biggest concern people identified and the top reason for wanting to return to the workplace. People want to connect with colleagues and reconnect to the organisation, helping to rekindle that shared purpose sense of belonging. Feeling a strong sense of community is the top indicator of people’s productivity, engagement, innovation and commitment to an organisation. 

A lot of workplaces are dated and too rigid in their current form and we need Risk Assessments and Method Statements in how we now work with COVID in the workplace. This will include looking at areas such as social distancing, screening, one-way routes, ventilation, cleaning regimes, rota and booking in systems to control volume of persons working in each zone. 

How visitors attend the workplace, deliveries to the workplace, accidents in the workplace, additional hygiene stations and many more aspects will need to be considered. 

Please note a helpful guide to a lot of these is through the HSE and can be found at www.hse.gov.uk/coronavirus/working-safely/index.htm 

Looking at some of the main areas of focus we need to look at the following where we can work with you to getting back to your workplaces: 

  • Design Safer Workplaces 
  • Design for Productivity 
  • Design to Inspire 
  • Design for Flexibility 
  • Design for Wellbeing
  • Design for Sustainability 
  • Design for Future Flexible Fit Workplaces 

Urban Realms featured an interesting piece on Post Pandemic Offices and stress that the office must evolve in order to hold onto its crown as the default environment for productivity. According to them, the office will evolve to meet the needs and wants of a population celebrating a newfound sense of freedom. 

To close, flexible working is here to stay for many years to come. It will help us to return to the workplace and stand us in a strong position to develop our teams and business. We may see a trend of decentralisation to an extent in larger organisations, with smaller local suburban hubs being formed as part of the overall solution in our new ways of working. 

As Charles Darwin said: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives, it is the one that is most adaptable to change.” 

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