Real Estate

How To Design The Hybrid Office After COVID-19

Stella Gittins, 22 October 2021

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What is the "hybrid office" and what role does it play in making the work environment better suited to today's working patterns, particularly given the massive disruptions caused by pandemic-induced lockdowns? This article examines the field.

As reported by this news organisation, financial firms, including private banks and wealth managers, have adopted different approaches to life after lockdowns. Some adopt hybrid models, some allow staff to work remotely permanently and others, such as Goldman Sachs, require staff to return to the office except in special circumstances. The changes throw up legal and health matters; what “rights” do people have to demand home working, for example? How far can or should firms press staff to be vaccinated as a condition of employment, and what liabilities might they be open to if there were to be complications? Beyond that, how can offices be designed to suit the new conditions we are in? How can they be designed to more hygienic and build confidence? (See a previous article exploring the architectural angle here.)

To try and answer some of the points and explore the terrain is Stella Gittins, group director of Accouter Group of Companies, the design firm. The editors are pleased to share these views and invite readers’ responses. Jump into the debate! The usual editorial disclaimers apply. Email tom.burroughes@wealthbriefing.com or jackie.bennion@clearviewpublishing.com

Lockdowns are lifting across the globe, but many workers are not returning to the office, and when they do come in, their needs are changing. 

The time spent working from home has given businesses the opportunity to think more about what they want to do with their office space. With flexibility at the front of everyone’s minds, for most businesses, this means reframing the office space as a destination rather than a contractual commitment.

Going into the office is no longer just about work. Now these spaces need to be re-designed to create an environment which provides employees with a means of facilitating connections, enabling learning and fostering innovative collaboration. Yet cultivating such an environment from white-washed, bland layouts is no mean feat. 

What we see and interact with directly influences our wellbeing, and the workplace is no exception. For example, colour, light and tone can all contribute to workplace productivity, so consider creating different spaces to support different types of work. In our offices at AGC, we’ve always been drawn to neutral and natural spaces, framed by our own art collection which is more personal to our people – this can add a meaningful feel to the office and team. Moreover, consider the flow of the space and how the overall design concept can be used to create an inspiring yet practical environment that enables employees to work as effectively as possible. 

Leave behind the all too familiar concept of white-washed walls, cubed layouts and coveted corner offices. Instead, strive for a more adaptable design that can evolve alongside the needs of the employees as they change day-to-day. Include team-working spaces that encourage collaboration, along with workshop rooms and meeting spaces equipped with the latest technology for videoconferencing. At AGC, every desk is a hot desk, and the teams can choose to sit in one of the offices or the communal spaces around the building including the bars and restaurant. By switching to a hot-desk system, you can spark dialogue, creativity and reinvigorate a sense of connection that has been largely absent since the start of the pandemic. 

Making the office into a destination also centres on the design of facilities. In our AGC offices, our facilities include a fully-equipped gym with a Pilates and yoga studio and a rooftop bar. We also have an AGC library where a member of the team can buy an inspirational book which we pay for, if they donate a book for others to read. 

In addition, irrepliceable furnishings and inspiring reading materials such as cult magazines, can evoke inspiration and innovation among employees whilst original works of art can spark conversation for visitors. Incorporating biophilic design into the workplace - whether that be through a living wall or through sound stimuli - can also help to promote employee wellbeing and make the office environment a more welcoming space. 

Ultimately, a well-constructed interior design concept can transform any workplace into an engaging cultural space. With employees now looking for much more than just a desk to doc their laptop in, the benefits of getting this right are invaluable to business leaders for ensuring future success. 

Now, the focus needs to centre much more on humanising the work environment, and this starts with designing and embracing the hybrid office.

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