In the first half of 2020, our lives were turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic. Literally overnight (25/26 March), the identity of the workplace changed for so many people. Working from home, amidst domesticity, we did what human beings have always done in challenging times: we adapted.
Working from home had its advantages. It presented us with opportunities to embrace new technology, take control of our time, and reduce the time and money spent on travel to and from the workplace. For some, the home environment provided a welcome sense of peace and tranquillity.
And there were drawbacks. Some workers felt detached and disengaged, and others were disoriented by the collapse of work/home boundaries. Many people found no peace at home and became frustrated and stressed, unable to escape the noise and demands of their families.
The workplace will probably never return to how it was pre-COVID. There’s an opportunity, now, to restyle the workplace – to return to the office with fresh ideas, new expectations, and a desire to improve what we had. Again, we’ll adapt.
Through government support, good management, dedicated workers, and advanced technology, thousands of UK businesses survived the lockdown. However, one element of a healthy organisation was hard to hold onto. Social capital – an intangible asset that comprises the combined value of people’s relationships, interactions, and camaraderie – relies on human contact.
Aqua Libra Co is a preferred supplier of water dispensers for Morgan Sindall Group – a company that shares our commitment to creating long-term, sustainable value in the built environment.
In a OnePulse (online survey platform) poll, Morgan Lovell – part of the Morgan Sindall Group – found that 90% of respondents missed the social interaction of the office, and 47% missed the ability to collaborate easily.
In 1990, American psychologist William Kahn presented his theory of employee engagement, which he defined as “the harnessing of organisation members’ selves to their work roles.” Kahn suggested that people need to feel safe bringing their full self to work, and they need to consider their work meaningful enough to warrant engaging their full self.
Employee engagement is nurtured by company culture, and company culture is most fertile in a physical environment. Humans thrive on social interaction, which does, of course, include seeing and hearing one another on a video call or the telephone, and it includes communication via script; but this is only part of it. Social interaction also includes eye contact, touch, space sharing, body language, and spontaneous conversation.
When we’re working in isolation, we don’t borrow a pencil, eat lunch together, or run into a colleague as we make our morning coffee or grab a glass of water.
During 2020 and 2021, a large proportion of the workforce has, for the first time, experienced the convenience of flexible working hours and the freedom of home working. When we get a taste of something sweet, we want more of it. But we also want the good bits of life before 2020!
Maybe the working environment will become an office/home hybrid, combining the positive aspects of both.
We’ve tasted the tranquillity of working outdoors, and the freedom to wander. We’ve experienced the luxury of organising start times, finish times, and breaks. We don’t want to say goodbye to chain-drinking hot tea or chilled water, or the opportunity to work in solitude.
So, to sum up: we’re looking for the camaraderie, collaboration, and security of the office; and we want this shared space to offer the comforts and conveniences of the home environment.
Sounds fair …
With the office/home hybrid workplace, not everyone will be in the office at once.
The office could well evolve into a hub, where meetings and collaboration take place – where people come to touch base and keep in touch. There might be fewer desks and more informal seating. With the sustainable trend of electronic data storage, there’ll be fewer filing cabinets.
In Morgan Lovell’s survey, 54% of respondents wanted to see more office furniture that could be easily moved or reconfigured, allowing them to create their own workspace. In the event of a future pandemic, this flexible arrangement would enable businesses to adapt their space more economically.
A combination of people’s desire for flexibility and a yearning for social interaction, paired with the bottom-line benefits of an engaged team, all points to the advantage of breaking down divisional barriers. However, an open-plan space still needs delineation, with a separation of areas, whilst allowing free flow between them.
But it can’t all be about communal activity. In the survey, 63% of respondents said that what they missed most about the office was having a quiet space where they could concentrate. Individual workstations offer solitude when it’s required, but, unlike the “old” system, where each member of staff owned a designated desk, a “new” system is developing, whereby desk space is transitory – a temporary, shared facility.
The literal meaning of biophilia is “love of life”. The concept refers to the human draw to other living organisms. But our deep-rooted attraction to the natural world goes beyond the organic (the bio). It extends to a desire for fresh air and natural light, for views of the outdoors and a natural soundscape.
A biophilic office is one that lets in natural light and fresh air. There are plants, which, besides providing the feel-good factor, contribute to oxygen-rich air. Attractive, accessible hydration stations are an important feature of a biophilic office.
Over the past 18 months, certain elements of developing technology experienced a growth spurt.
Video conferencing replaced in-person meetings, and smart technology reduced contact with shared surfaces. UV sterilisation, an established method for sterilising drinking water, has been applied to the sanitation of air. All these forms of technology have facilitated business continuity, and they will no doubt become a regular part of the modern office
Sustainability is high on the agenda for many companies, who’ll be fitting out their offices with low-energy technology and renewable materials.
Some of the UK’s most progressive companies have installed an energy-efficient Aqua Libra Co water dispenser. Because all our hot water is purified before boiling, Aqua Libra Co water dispensers are totally free from limescale, a feature that increases their environmental benefits. And by providing the means to refill, a business is contributing to the elimination of single-use plastic.