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Analysing the short and long-term workplace trends after COVID-19

There are many factors which influence trends in workspace design and workplace culture, so planning for life after Covid-19 is no easy task for businesses that want to look beyond 2020.

What is most complicated for employers is working out what new trends in the workplace environment are temporary, and perhaps stay in place for only a few months as people adjust, and which will be around for the long term.

Talking to clients across all sectors, a picture is starting to build of what the Big Return To Work looks like short term and how it might look further down the line:

Short-term

  1. The hygiene screen

    A screen to shield computer users from their colleagues, and to prevent germs spreading from one work station to another, is pretty much number one on the list for all businesses.  We can expect to see them in offices across the country; but it’s not a completely simple fix. Already we have seen a shortage in the UK of acrylic, leaving some companies with a long wait to order screens in.

    They certainly give employees an extra confidence factor – most have seen them in use at supermarket tills and therefore believe they work. But environmentally speaking they go against the grain in a world where we are trying to reduce the amount of plastic we consume.

  2. Spacing between desks

    We are seeing a lot of businesses remove desks to increase space – but many are putting those desks in storage rather than throwing them away. It suggests they see the current re-design as a temporary measure.

    There needs to be a  be sensible level of response in terms of office layout, too.. But people are  fearful of the virus and as a consequence  short term measures must be put in place allay their fears and get them back into the workplace safely.

  3. Homeworking

    There have been a lot of articles already about the death of the office, suggesting more and more people will work from home in future having done so without problems during the lockdown.

    However, not all businesses share that prediction. Many believe that homeworking will stay for the remainder of the year but will morph into flexible working after that – an environment in which people spend some time in the office and some at home.

    We have heard of companies that want to end their lease and either move somewhere smaller or even do without an office long term. However, the advice in the industry is not to be too hasty giving up space. Let things settle down and see how it pans out. We believe the office will be back.

  4. Closure of collaborative and creative workspace

    On-trend workspace design until now was aimed at introducing areas where people would meet and collaborate in the office. Small pods, for instance, where there was a big screen and a cosy atmosphere to inspire ideas and creativity. That’s going to change. It’s certainly gone for this year. But don’t bank on it disappearing all together. Some designers believe people’s attitudes will change within a year and once we can give our family members a hug, people will feel more confident in the office, providing Covid-19 is under control.

Long-term

  1. The end of hotdesking

    We’ve spent many years getting everyone used to agile working and hotdesking, but with one eye permanently on the next pandemic it’s hard to see that trend surviving.

    Many businesses may go back to a much more fixed position. Unless you have a cleaning regime in which every keyboard and every mouse is cleaned every few hours, then agile working does not work in the current conditions.

    Ironically, it could also save the big office – because it means businesses do still need the footprint to incorporate all those desks. If a company has 5000 employees and wants 2000 of them in the office, there will need to be space.

  2. Protecting against future pandemic through design – and location

    When businesses go through tough times, they inevitably plan to ensure they can survive future upheavals. This happens in recessions, for instance, when companies centralise and de-centralise. When they are growing, they all want to be in the City offices. When things crash, they migrate  out to cheaper destinations.

    As the biggest fear right now for employees is public transport, over the next few years you might see companies come away from the big multi-storey buildings and move to business parks where people can drive to instead of taking the public transport. Offices where you can use the stairs instead of lifts will be more popular, too.

  3. New design trends

    There will be some future design based around the pandemic, that’s for sure. In the past, Europe has been relatively shielded, but Covid-19 will make designers think again. In China they were already more equipped in their ways of working. But the biggest trend we’ll see short term is people leaving their big city offices behind and moving to suburbia. New design trends will follow as a result.

  4. Refurbishment of existing office furniture

    Re-using and redistributing office furniture is a trend that we see continuing as businesses look to equip employees with better furniture and equipment when they work at home.

    Crucially, businesses remain liable for the health and safety of employees even when they work outside of the office. We have seen major clients allowing staff to purchase home office setups and claim this back.

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