How the office of the future should look

The concept of offices will need to be re-imagined to entice the workforce back

The Covid-19 pandemic gave millions of employees around the world a taste of remote work they don’t wish to give up just yet.

One of the questions I got asked frequently when I was looking to hire a graphic designer recently was whether they needed to come to an office or if they are able to work from home. One even confessed that she gets her best ideas at night and isn’t productive during the day.

Before the pandemic, many of us worked from office spaces that haven’t changed very much in terms of layout in the last 30 or 40 years. Chief executives and management usually have dedicated private offices and employees worked in cubicles.

Many interacted mainly during lunch hours or in the elevator, with the majority of communications nowadays taking place electronically.

When I worked in the public sector, my department was in charge of creating a casual leisure space for employees where they can work away from their desks, relax on chairs facing the panoramic windows, dine in with their colleagues, read from the library and enjoy breakfasts and snacks that were served daily.

A number of managers thought that it was a wasted space, and believed it wouldn’t positively impact employees’ productivity or well-being. They were proved wrong. It fostered strong connections between employees and also helped boost morale, while getting many of us excited to go to work.

As corporates such as Google and Microsoft continue to embrace remote work, flexibility will remain a key factor when hiring and retaining talent.

The pandemic gave many of us the chance to re-evaluate our options and prioritise mental well-being.

Employees who experienced remote and freelance work will need more convincing to come into a physical office. They will be on the lookout for companies that offer them something that working from home doesn’t. This could be the opportunity to socialise with their colleagues in a unique setting, or access to certain facilities that are only available in the office, such as wellness programmes, a library and work stations designed for different personal preferences.

Depending on their line of work, corporates that will have a blended workforce where some will work from home and others in the office, need to develop a work environment that caters to both.

So instead of assigned offices or desks, corporates can opt for a shared open-work plan where employees can work from communal tables, and dedicated private spaces for those who need it. This also means that premises should be equipped with screens catered to connecting with remote workers on video. They can be large screens for meeting rooms, or smaller ones throughout.

A research-based company can attract talents by offering unique facilities such as an in-office library, recording studios to aid their research and quiet research rooms. The office can be designed to enhance focus.

A design agency can do away with private offices, consider open plan work areas, as well as facilities that will inspire creativity. These could include reading nooks, special computer devices, printers, photography and videography studios, podcast studios, art spaces, photography tools and a recreation space for those with a creative block. Designing a space that feels like a home from home is the goal.

Companies should consider adding wellness rooms, an in-house nursery for those with newborns and toddlers, a gym and shower spaces for their employees. The offices should be re-designed to offer a relaxing environment and should, if possible, extend benefits of meditation, yoga, and wellness classes for employees on premises.

One thing for sure is that the concept of an office as we know it will be transformed. As corporates compete for the best talents, their premises need to offer facilities that will attract employees to work from there.

Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati journalist and entrepreneur who manages her marketing and communications company in Abu Dhabi

Updated: October 24th 2021, 3:39 AM
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