COVID – 19: speeding up innovation in workplace

Mónica Soto | Director in 3g office Spain

 

The transformation of those spaces will be influenced, without a doubt, by changes in our way of working and living and, in turn, will be clearly affected by the massive use of working remotely. 

 

 

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Just like security gained importance after the 9/11 attacks and led to the adoption of measures still in force today, COVID-19 will increase once again our need for protection.

It is still difficult to foresee what measures will be taken to stop mass infections. Some will have scientific grounds whether others might be promoted looking for a placebo effect, whose goal will be increasing our sense of protection. One thing that is clear is that if we want to be less vulnerable, we will have to carry out changes in our way of life.

The pandemic has raised awareness and will, without a doubt, have an impact on the way in which we go about our daily lives, which will clearly be reflected on the use we make of space.

The new scenario can be divided into three areas:

  • Collective effort: We all need to collaborate for this to change. It is not down to our governments or the European Union… it is down to each of us.
  • Individual needs: The feeling of vulnerability and the need for protection is different for each of us. There will be more widespread acceptance of personal and individual conditions and greater empathy towards others.
  • Greater surveillance: It seems that most of us will be willing to accept some degree of «bio-surveillance» in order to avoid infections, a possibility which, if not properly legislated, could be similar to scenarios presented in films such as Gattaca.

When looking into the changes that these circumstances will have on space design, we have to differentiate between the impacts in the short and mid term – such as the easing of the lockdown after overcoming the healthcare crisis – and the long-term changes that will be present in a «post-vaccine» world.

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Due to the lockdown we are executing the largest-ever global pilot on working from home. This huge experiment is being done under exceptional circumstances that entail, amongst others, feelings of loneliness, «anxiety» for connection, uncertainty about the labour market or vulnerability in a society where «you are worth what you produce»; also due to the fact that work and conference calls are being done whilst surrounded by small children and relatives in many cases…  

But, at the same time, it gives us a glimpse of the challenges we face: technology tools, people and spaces.

TECHNOLOGY TOOLS

  • Updating: Wider use of new tools that allow us to collaborate and share seamlessly, enabling the connection of large teams.

PEOPLE

  • New leadership style: Working from home requires changes to leadership, with more horizontal organisational structures. Small companies and start-ups may be better adapted to this model, contrary to large companies that will require an adaptation process.
  • Entrepreneurial attitude: A new attitude by employees: working from home requires a change of attitude. They need to have a strong entrepreneurial mindset, more capable of self-managing, with greater initiative and dedication.
  • More widespread teams, with new assessment techniques: Working with more decentralised and global teams, even when having more centralised production systems, entails changes to the assessment and coordination of activities.

SPACES

In the short and mid term, we will undergo very visible transformations given that much of the labour market will move to the virtual arena:

  • There is an urgent need to change the cleaning and maximum occupancy protocols to keep the required social distancing. Activities will be carried out 50% from the offices and 50% from home, thus fostering social distancing. Companies will have to promote working from home amongst those employees with special protection needs.
  • Face-to-face meetings and business trips will be quarantined until a vaccine is found. Meeting rooms will temporary become chair storage rooms whilst we meet via Skype, Zoom, Hangout…

In the long term, changes that we were already witnessing before will speed up:  

  • Cyberspace and the virtual world will be part of our everyday life, whereas face-to-face activities will be reserved for very special occasions.
  • Respect towards others and empathy, stronger due to the greater vulnerability of us all, will foster inclusion when creating teams and in the way in which we relate to each other at work.
  • The distinction between workplace and homeplace will be blurred. This is not about flexible timetables or «days» in which you are allowed to work from home. Homes will need to adapt to the new situation, with computer screens and chairs that meet certain minimum ergonomic
  • Architecture includes «gadgets» that protect our health such as anti-bacterial materials, contactless doors, more lighting, command-controlled lockers, fabrics that measure temperature, etc.
  • IOT (Internet of Things) Integration through the use of sensors that measure occupancy, density, air quality and temperature will become a must.
  • The office will become a «hub» to connect with the brand, the culture and the centralised teams. We can even envisage that large cities will have two or three «mini-hubs» per company, small headquarters that foster the meeting up of smaller groups that give more options to employees.

All in all, there will be a clear winner: «Activity-based working«. This trend is also promoted by the understanding that, even if developing similar tasks, we do not all work in the same manner. There is the need for the environment to adapt to the different types of personality and physical conditions, circumstances and requirements of social distancing. The model based on «Activity-based working» fosters comprehensive and radical inclusion and greater flexibility and efficacy with the lowest occupancy. In those terms, our homes will become one more workspace. Making the most of it for situations that require distancing will not just be a consequence, but a motive.

Present times have demonstrated human beings’ ability to adapt, individually and as part of a society, to a new world where, today more than ever, work life and personal life come together.

Mónica Soto

Director en 3g office Spain

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