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How will social distancing affect office design in 2020?

Much of the nation is becoming accustomed to working from home following lockdown measures implemented in an attempt to slow the spread of coronavirus. It’s meant finding virtual ways of communicating, improving processes and in some cases, trying to get to grips with a whole new way of working. For many, this is a temporary measure in unprecedented times and it’s for the greater good. But how will social distancing and the new norms that now accompany it affect working and office design in the near future?

Here, we consider whether the way we work can ever really return to ‘normal’ and discuss how the office environment might change in the years to come.

Embracing a new era
The open-plan layout has been a mainstay of office design for decades – done well it can help to enhance productivity and improve collaborative working. But densely packed workspaces that require colleagues to be in close proximity of one another will need to be re-thought as we return to work. Such workplaces will prove unsettling, as it’s expected we’ll be cautiously social distancing, at least in some form, for some time after our return. As far as office-based work is concerned, we’ll likely have to find a new norm.

Before COVID-19, remote working wasn’t regularly offered by employers. However, as many businesses are learning a thing or two about how inessential face-to-face working really is – will workers be returning to a very different-looking role that’s almost wholly home-based?

Improving culture and combatting feelings of isolation
How will office design accommodate social distancing in future? Many have predicted there will be a shift in demand for private offices – which could prove difficult for flex space occupiers – or a move to remote working. Since lockdown came into play, workforces have proven to employers that productivity levels need not suffer because they’re working from home. Businesses have shifted to the cloud for easy file-sharing and are exploring various virtual communications applications in a bid to stay connected. And as this new way of working continues to garner success and employees become comfortable with the flexibility, a post-COVID-19 workplace may look very different.

For those heading back to the office once life returns to some form of normality, changes in its design and layout will be required. There’ll be a call for inviting spaces that are well-connected and, above all else, safe. Designers will have to get creative with break-out zones that encourage communication and productivity but remain cautious with social distancing in mind. The reimagined office will likely feature a lot more hot desking and strike the right balance of isolated productivity and meaningful collaboration, alongside completely new additions such as glass screens or partitions.

How are your productivity levels faring as you work from home? Do you prefer it? Or, if your business is currently closed, what are your thoughts on the future of your office space? We’re aiming to gather insight on the matter across all industries, so please join in the conversation over on our LinkedIn post.

Written by
Eddy Burrows

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