Recognizing the power of design amid COVID-19

The global health crisis will change future workspaces
Wednesday, April 22, 2020
by Lisa Mackenzie

The impacts of COVID-19 have transcended all borders and boundaries. There are very few people, industries, or businesses that will be left untouched when the crisis subsides. While we don’t have much control over the situation, we do have the ability to reflect on what has shifted and what will change going forward in both our personal and professional lives.

This pandemic has been tragic on so many levels, but has also yielded an unexpected appreciation for things in life that we took for granted or failed to fully appreciate. For design leaders, the global health crisis has highlighted the real power of workplace design. This collective experience will have lasting impacts on how we design and perceive our workspaces outside the home.

Working remotely highlights the value of human interaction

The design of a space has the potential to determine the productivity and engagement levels of its occupants. It affects how people feel, behave, connect and collaborate, and provides people with opportunities to do their best work.

In many cases, in-person interactions and brainstorming with teams are critical to success. Remote work has placed a major spotlight on our innate yearning for connection. We were once oblivious to the significance of face time with colleagues, friends, and family, but most of us are now yearning for human interaction during isolation. At M Moser, we stay engaged and productive by collaborating, reviewing plans, piecing things together, and moving through projects as a collective. But in this historical moment, the absence of in-person socializing has brought to light the value of expression and working tangibly with others.

While much of the world’s workforce is working from home, we are also recognizing the significance of initiating those impromptu encounters we previously had in the hallways and collaboration areas of offices, which helped stimulate thought processes. In the absence of those chance encounters, we are making an extra effort to find opportunities to interact, and are seeing the value of setting up virtual coffee and lunch meetings, or joining a video chat, simply to say hi. When life returns to a version of normal, we will have a newfound appreciation for those brief conversations throughout our day.

Strategic design is key to a company’s success

As we have an increased understanding of human interaction as a catalyst for productivity and engagement at work, leaders are beginning to see that human interaction is facilitated by space. Notably, interactions are managed in the workplace with strategic design and distribution of different areas, contrived to suit different work styles and needs. Points of interaction and collaboration, as well as amenities, change of scenery, settings that minimize distractions, additional resources and supplies, and advanced technologies all have the capacity to elevate employee performance.

Using space as a tool to design ways to take breaks, increase productivity, encourage interactions, and compartmentalize certain areas for specific functions is essential for employee health. However, not all homes are equipped to contain home offices, as layouts, number of people, technology, and other resources vary. Restricted to our home offices (or living rooms), the impacts of these elements are emphasized to us, more so now than ever, and this will continue to unfold for us as we finally see an end to the pandemic.

Leaders will change their workplace design approach after COVID-19

Now that we are disconnected from the spaces that often inspire us at work, there is a stronger appreciation and longing for a well-designed workplace. As a result, leaders will place a greater emphasis on the strategic component of workplace design – real estate, design planning, and advanced technology will be top priorities. Restructuring office components like leases and spatial functions will better support workplace needs while offering a more agile set-up for employees.

In addition, leadership teams will strive to empower employees by focusing on positivity and potential learning opportunities from their experiences during COVID-19. They may prompt employees to reflect on how much they’ve improved, what they’ve achieved, and how they’ve adapted during the crisis. Overall, there will be a greater appreciation for one another, as well as support from the workplace, once we are back at the office.

For most of us working remotely, going to the office provides us with a designated place to do our work, and offers us a separation and balance between our work and home life. But when we are removed from our typical work settings for an extended period of time, we will recognize the role design plays in our lives, and how it contributes to our wellbeing as employees. Going forward, leaders will have a heightened awareness for the power of design and how it helps people excel at work.

Lisa Mackenzie is associate director at M Moser Associates in Vancouver.


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