Teleworking has become the new norm, but many companies are now considering hybrid models to get their employees back to the offices. One challenge will be to create creative office environments that reduce the risk of the spread of infection and meet the threat of new pandemics in the future.
The corona crisis has changed the view of the office as a center for job activities, and perhaps employers are now sitting with their foreheads in deep folds to gather employees who work from home, in coworking hubs or in satellite offices near the home.
For the joint offices are important and the independence that developed during the pandemic can have a price in the form of depleted corporate culture and creativity that goes on a low flame – with reduced innovation power as a result. That is the opinion of architect Christina Bodin Danielsson, advisor and office researcher at KTH.
– You lose each other. This is where the office has its strength and it is important not to lose that power. But I think that many employees who previously were not allowed to work remotely have now got a taste for working outside the offices and it can be difficult to get them back. We must therefore ensure infection-free environments in the future. Now vaccines are coming, but pandemics can come back in other forms, says Christina Bodin Danielsson.
But how should one then succeed in attracting scattered employees back to the offices at the same time as infections must be prevented? Just sparse tables will not suffice in the design of the offices of the future, says Christina Bodin Danielsson.
– We easily forget to keep our distance and need to be reminded that “exactly yes, I must not stand closer to anyone other than 1.5-2 meters. You therefore need solutions to be able to keep your distance.
Specifically, it can be about building in signal effects through, for example, different color schemes, material choices, new floor solutions and furniture that form natural barriers and zones. Built-in movement patterns can also reduce unnecessary meetings in the offices.
– There are many different ways of working with both behaviors and architecture, the physical design. They must go hand in hand because the architectural design can both promote and prevent behavior. It must also work with the office’s working methods and vision.
“Flex offices will get a boost now”
She sees two parallel trends that characterize the design of offices in the 21st century. On the one hand, the tight office landscapes have gained ground, and on the other hand, there is a trend that it should be fun, creative and fun to be at work, so-called Disneyfication, such as companies that Google has been at the forefront of.
But a return to the large noisy and often criticized “thrall seas” where you sit close together and infections easily take hold, will not be accepted by employees, believes Christina Bodin Danielsson.
– Many believe that the activity-based flex offices will get another boost now. They are based on support environments where you work individually and have smaller areas where you meet and can keep your distance. But it’s all now about putting a covid 19-touch on it.
To find solutions for the design of the office of the future, she participates as an expert in a RISE-funded research project led by the entrepreneur Pierre Schäring. He has previously developed ergonomic control rooms and operational monitoring centers for operators who work in decision-critical environments, such as traffic management.
– Much of what we thought there is directly transferable to the office of the future. We are now trying to look at how to transform activity-based offices that exist today by creating a framework around the workplaces that forms a micro environment controlled by technology and adapts to individual needs and situations, says Pierre Schäring at the company CDE.
Attract the best engineers
The concept is based on a wooden frame that surrounds the workstations. The design, which can be compared to a pergola, has integrated sensors that adapt lighting and sound to activity, but also adjustable infection control barriers and automatic functions for air purification. With the help of nanosensors, viruses and bacteria can be quickly detected.
So far there is only one prototype, but this autumn Pierre Schäring wants to test the concept to see how “high end users”, such as engineers, experience this solution in industrial workplaces.
Being able to offer an individual, safe and adaptable workplace will be crucial after the pandemic, he says.
– In the future, you may be more free to decide if you want to work from home, but if companies are to attract the best engineers, you must be able to offer a good and safe office environment. Because it is in the physical encounter between these people that new ideas arise spontaneously. They do not come just because you sit in a team meeting.
Christina Bodin Danielsson is also positive about the possibilities of creating safe and creative offices in the future.
– I think it will be great. Hopefully we have seen what it is that makes people feel good. What do we like at home and in the office and get something positive. I’m not worried about the future of offices because we need them, but the large office clusters will not be the attraction.