Placing public health & wellbeing at the heart of good office design
To respond to the Covid-19 crisis and the movements away from and then back to the office, businesses have frequently had to make use of short-term measures to ensure their workplaces are safe. As the office is a primary vector for virus transmission outside of the home and schools, necessary measures needed to be taken before anyone could safely return to work.
This pandemic is different
For the first time in most of our lives, we have experienced a genuine pandemic and public health emergency. This is likely to have a lasting impact on how we view office health and wellbeing. Whereas once, colds and flu might have been seen as to be expected collateral damage of busy work environments, Covid-19 has been of a seriousness that has left us uneasy. We’re no longer quite as confident that coughs and sniffles are nothing to worry about.
Every year serious flu kills tens of thousands of people in the UK, and one of the main places it spreads is in the workplace as people struggle into work despite feeling unwell. That culture of presenteeism looks as if it may well be a long-overdue casualty of the Covid-19 pandemic. We are now hyper-aware of health risks and this is likely to impact on future office design.
From short-term fixes to long-term changes
Initially, the concern for employers was ensuring they did all they could within current office layouts to ensure that employees had confidence that virus transmission would be reduced. These have represented sharp, surgical hits that communicate safety, without being an extensive and expensive revamp of office layout. Whereas once workstations were about privacy and acoustics, they’re now increasingly being seen as a means towards physical distancing from colleagues.
Long-term changes are likely to be slower to emerge. Many predict the return of old-style offices and the end of open plan, but the smaller office spaces of the past were, in themselves, comfortable places in which viruses could spread.
Over the longer term, many experts are predicting new offices will have elements in common with hospitals. They’ll incorporate materials that can withstand heavy cleaning, air filtration systems will be built into designs, sinks and hygiene areas will become more commonplace. Virus control will be factored into every new design, rather than being seen as an afterthought.
All of these elements will sit alongside a less intensive use of space that takes account of new blended ways of working. If it’s done well this could be the start of a new era of office design that looks at the workplace and those who work within it in a much more holistic way. It’s no good having an efficient workforce if that workforce is consequently ravaged by burnout and illnesses. A healthy workforce is more resilient and something that intelligent employers have long understood.
Using good office design to build resilience
Even though the end of this particular pandemic is now in sight, a new generation of workers is increasingly aware of how diseases can spread. They will demand more of employers when it comes to their health and wellbeing. With the number of zoonotic diseases increasing, this may well not be the last pandemic we face. The next time it happens, workplaces may well have a better idea of what to expect. Using good design to build resilience while we can seem like a smart move.
Looking to shape your office for the future?