Get your workspace post-Covid ready

How to create a healthy, people-centric workspace in 10 steps

As we move into a new era, and people slowly return to the office, organisations are questioning traditional ideas on how work should be done, the role of the office and what the workspace should look like. Global real estate company JLL’s 2021 Top 10 Global CRE Trends report reveals that humanising the workplace is one of the ways that companies can entice people back to the office, along with creating a healthy work environment with a renewed focus on the wellbeing of employees.

Zama Zaca, Head of Business Development at Tétris Design + Build, believes that employee flexibility in the traditional work model was a perk that in the future may become a driving factor for attracting and retaining talent.  “As the world is evolving, so does the workplace need to evolve to suit individual organisations.”

Going forward, Zaca says the key to encouraging employees to come into work is to make your office a destination rather than somewhere people have to be. Here’s how to create a healthy, people-centric workspace in 10 steps:

Zama Zaca, Head of Business Development at Tétris Design + Build
Zama Zaca, Head of Business Development at Tétris Design + Build
  1. Let in natural light

The Daylight and Workplace Study done by Cornell University in the US revealed that natural light in office spaces has a positive effect on the overall health and productivity of employees. It showed that employees seated near a source of natural light reported an 84% drop in symptoms of eye strain, headaches and blurred vision. These workers also noted a 2% boost in productivity and a 10% decrease in drowsiness.

It is clear that we thrive in natural light, so it makes sense to layout your office so that the greatest number of workstations have access to daylight. Consider including floor-to-ceiling windows and skylights to help to distribute light evenly.

  1. Install ambient lighting

While natural lighting can have a positive effect on productivity, it is not always possible or suitable for all office spaces. Often a workplace will require different types of lighting for different areas, depending on the function of the area. Soft, ambient lighting provides a comfortable level of brightness and is ideal for enclosed, individual-focus workspaces, promoting concentration, while brighter light is more welcoming in larger, open plan formats.

  1. Bring the outside in

Biophilia is the innate human need to connect with nature. Besides improving air quality, biophilic elements, such as plants, can have a positive impact on mental health and productivity. An Interface study of office workers across 16 different countries found that those situated in offices including natural elements like plants reported a 15 per cent higher level of wellbeing, were 6 per cent more productive and 15 per cent more creative.

  1. Incorporate natural materials

Biophilia can extend to using natural materials in your office design. By incorporating wood, bamboo or stone in work and break areas, spaces can be made more inviting and help to boost wellbeing.

  1. Embrace the ‘resimercial’ trend

Bringing together ‘residential’ and ‘commercial’, resimercial design brings the feel of home into the workspace, making the transition from home back to a corporate space smoother. This global trend is seeing the sterile, grey and white boardrooms and offices of the past replaced with more welcoming, homely spaces. Consider layering workspaces in softer colours and finishes to create a comfortable space conducive to collaboration and increased productivity. Create environments that accommodate different activities – like at home – to help staff meet their ever-changing needs throughout the day, for example, cosy rest zones, quiet secluded spots for focused work, and home-like couches in meeting areas.

  1. Focus on ergonomics

Ergonomic office furniture, designed with the movement and functionality of the human body in mind, can reduce the stress on bones, joints and muscles. This could be desks with adjustable heights to allow for sitting or standing, and modular furniture suitable for a variety of tasks that can be quickly changed to accommodate employee needs. Workers no longer need to be stuck at a desk all day.

  1. Provide options for various work styles

According to global research by JLL, over 60% of the workforce want to keep the possibility of alternating between different places of work in the future, with two days a week outside the office being the new optimum. When in the office, 57% want to be able to choose the most suitable workspaces according to their tasks.

JLL has identified the emergence of four hybrid worker profiles. On one end of the continuum is the traditional office worker who wants to work exclusively in the office and on the other end the free spirit, who wants to escape the office as often as possible, with two intermediate profiles in between who want flexibility. The post-pandemic office needs to provide tailored solutions to accommodate these personalities, taking into account their roles in the organisation and the projects they are engaged with.

Variations in spatial offerings, or hybrid workspaces, are key. Elements to consider include open and closed cabins, individual zones, auto-isolated desks – fixed or mobile, and meeting booths.

  1. Promote health and wellbeing

The pandemic has put a spotlight on health and wellbeing, a trend that is being carried through in forward-looking office designs. Support mental health by incorporating workspaces that encourage interaction and collaboration, such as small but open innovation, meeting and leisure areas. Look after physical health by focusing on good airflow, clear and safe pathways, ergonomics, natural light and antibacterial, easy-to-clean surfaces.

  1. Ensure good connectivity

As employees trickle back into the office, technology will still play an important role in the way they interact with each other and clients, so good connectivity is essential. Technology within meeting spaces will need to facilitate people joining virtually from different places. Think about repurposing pre-existing technology and investing in higher-spec technology to enhance the workplace and create spaces where people can comfortably join virtual meetings with good audio and lighting.

  1. Create a well-furnished, humanised space

To entice staff back, try to understand their different needs and wants, and create spaces that accommodate these but that still fit into your organisation’s work culture. Offer them something that they can’t get elsewhere – consider repurposing boardrooms that are no longer used in yoga studios or gyms. This will motivate staff to commute to the office as they’re not only going to be working, but also improving other aspects of their lives. If it works with your brand, add hammocks or chaise lounges to give a physical change of perspective or install a reflective space where staff can go sit quietly. By designing for inclusion and humanising the office, you can help people transition more easily back to work.

Visit the official COVID-19 government website to stay informed: sacoronavirus.co.za