Office Space Planning; What Has Changed Since Covid-19?

It was the 23rd March 2020 when the Prime Minister announced the first UK lockdown.

Home working instantly became the new norm leaving most UK office spaces empty for months.  But as the lockdown restrictions began to ease and businesses welcomed their staff back into the office, employees and their employers had some serious adapting to do. It wasn’t always easy either.  Thankfully, the saving grace came in the form of space planning and interior design.

Pre-pandemic, working from home was seen as a luxury rather than a necessity and it was something that perhaps we did once a week at most (maybe on a Friday if you were lucky). Not all business owners and managers were onboard with the idea either. In fact, many employers insisted that all members of staff always work from the office. WFH was simply not an option.

Everyone had a desk, and everyone used their desks for much of their 40 hour working weeks. Offices were therefore crammed full of desks and chairs with the focus and goal being how many seats can you fit in as small a space as possible.

Seems odd to think back to those days, doesn’t it?

Fast forward to 2022 and, despite a gradual but consistent easing of restrictions, many of us continue to work from home. We balance this with in-office working too of course… the ultimate ‘best of both worlds” scenario.

And – because we all love a label or a new buzz word, we now call this (not completely new) phenomenon, hybrid working; a workstyle that accommodates employees working from different locations.

While hybrid working may have seemed like a bit of a downside for businesses who’d invested in large premises for their office-based staff only to find their space needs were seriously curtailed, for many others, it offers a great opportunity for expansion without the expense of moving.

Benefits of hybrid working

For the avoidance of doubt, a hybrid office is an arrangement in which a company’s managers and employees sometimes work together in a physical office and sometimes work remotely, but they have access to all the necessary equipment and systems they need to carry out their day job as if they were working from the same, central location.

The idea is to provide the best of both worlds. It’s an effective hybrid work system that encourages:

  • Autonomy
  • Flexibility
  • High performance
  • Collaboration
  • Positive work relationships
  • Effective work habits

Practically, it’s proving popular among employees and business owners alike. If you’re someone who prefers in-person training sessions and social interactions, then working in the office will be more of your “thing”. If you have young children and find the office environment distracting, you may welcome the idea of remote or part time working.  They key is in the freedom to choose. It has its up sides too as this workstyle can invigorate employees, leading to greater retention, engagement and productivity. A win for business owners too, right?

But a hybrid workspace isn’t just about staff members choosing where they work from, it is also about ensuring that wherever your employees are (the office, home or coffee shop down the road), they are supported and have access to all of the systems and technology as if they were working from one central place.

To introduce and accommodate a hybrid working model within your own workspace, Plann:d recommend implementing the following space planning design practises:

  1. Ensure all spaces within your working environment (offices, meeting rooms, communal areas etc) have Wi-Fi enabled. This will allow your office staff to connect with your remote team easily and instantly.

  2. Create additional, smaller workspaces in the form of office pods, quiet zones or dens and ensure you have the technology set up for your team to book these spaces for individual, private work or collaborative projects where a remote worker can join them on the screen via Zoom, Teams or Google Meet.
  3. Think about splitting the teams up per days of the week eg Marketing teams to be in the office on Mondays and Wednesdays with Customer Support teams coming in on Tuesdays and Fridays. Fewer heads meets social distancing requirements in the short term, but also allows for an expansion of these teams in the future (without needing to acquire more square footage).
  4. Incorporate interactive boards and TV screens to aid instant communication and collaboration between staff members in the office and those working from home.

Hybrid working is often mistaken for flexible and agile working. However, the differences are both subtle and important. All play a pivotal role in post pandemic office space planning. While the laws on WFH and social distancing may not be around forever, the last two years have certainly changed things culturally. Views on work, the office, balance and space preferences will be carried through for many years to come. So, what exactly is the difference between these working practices?

Flexible working – (when)
Flexible working is a concept that predominantly suits an employee’s needs and is supported by their employer, for example having flexible start and finish times or working from home on either pre-agreed set days of the week, or as and when required.  Flexible working enables employees to fit work around their lifestyles when it works from them, rather than the other way around, adapting the traditional 9-5 to accommodate a better work/life balance.

Agile working – (how)
Agile working is about bringing people, processes, connectivity and technology together to find the most effective activity-based way of working to complete a project.  Whilst there is a focus on achieving the task at hand, there aren’t any restrictive boundaries as to how you achieve it.  Unlike a traditional office where employees are assigned set desks and bulky computer equipment, agile workplaces encourage workers to move freely around the office, making use of whichever space suits their current objectives whilst fostering collaboration and connectivity.  When it comes to agile working, it’s all about how you work to achieve the most effective and efficient results.

Tip: Agile working is activated by different types of furniture, zoning and principles so if you’re looking to incorporate an agile concept into your workplace then start by introducing laptops or tablets instead of big PC screens and monitors – they’re much less restrictive and enable your team to work either independently or collaboratively from anywhere within the office.  And don’t forget that configurable office furniture is a good addition to any agile workspace too! 

Hybrid working – (where)
Hybrid working is the combination of remote workers and office-based staff, promoting a concoction of environments to support both your business and your employee’s work/life balance.  Hybrid working is all about where your team are working from and providing the relevant systems and technologies to ensure they can work as productively from any location.

Hybrid working is far more focused on the working culture and encouraging collaboration between office workers and home workers rather than treating it as the exception to the rule. Hybrid working is about facilitating the utilisation of both office and home working while creating a work-conducive environment in both zones where you feel a part of the office when working from home and feel a sense of home when working from the office.

At Plann:d we pride ourselves on creating unique spaces that work for the here and now, and the future too – something that is extremely important in the ever-changing, digitally connected world we now find ourselves in.  Get in touch today for advice, information and inspiration on making the most of space within your workspace in 2022 and beyond!