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  • Ron Barcelona

A PARADIGM SHIFT IN OFFICE WORKSPACE



HOW REMOTE WORK IS CHANGING THE OFFICE SETUP FOR POST PANDEMIC

PRE-PANDEMIC


Nearly two years have passed, and the things that we took for granted, such as basic encounters, now feel nostalgic to most of us. People had total freedom to roam and travel in whichever location they want at any time for no expense.

Despite mounting global uncertainty, the Philippine economy is expected to increase 5.8% in 2019 and would likely continue to develop. However, after COVID19, things have changed for the better, and millions of office workers have been forced out of their jobs to adjust to the new normal, and they haven't returned since.

 

LOCAL SETTING


In 2019, people were used to being in front of their computers for around 10 hours per day and Filipinos were deemed as the most active on social media platforms. This may have been the reason why Work from Home (WFH) or remote setup became a primary option to most companies during the pandemic. But even before this global crisis, work spaces have been experiencing a shift in design where walls and cubicles are being eliminated in order to promote collaboration through open layouts. However, now that we are more focused on sanitation and social distancing, will it be as effective as it was before.


In a survey done by Robert Walters, a leading recruitment agency in the Philippines, there’s still a huge portion of employees who are willing to report to their offices despite the risk of infection. The reason behind this is that not all employees have the access for comfortable work space in their households that is conducive for work efficiency. The other portions of the employees, that can maintain their work in the comfort of their home are more willing to continue their current setup while from time to time report in their offices if needed. And some employees, are prioritizing their health and well-being. Therefore, companies are adapting different frameworks and setups suitable to them, in order to strive.


Fast forward, now that employees are slowly returning to work in the office, employers should think about the changes that needs to be done in order to give the needs of the employees. Having in mind the precautions for pandemic, companies should evolve, adapt and be flexible on what is happening and what will happen. Will they adapt in the current trends of office layouts or will they be more experimental on the remote work setup?

 

THE IDEAS


Many foreign countries are studying and experimenting on ideas and theories on what the future of offices will be. The increasing area per person suggests that companies will be adding more square meters to their offices rather than decreasing their spaces for flexibility and social distancing purposes while others think to lessen their space because of skeletal work. Architects and stakeholders abroad were predicting a more collaborative approach in office spaces in the future once the pandemic is over. Others are anticipating that the offices will be more like libraries and are converting workstations into different space. Some companies are completely remodeling their office framework by rather having a centralized office into implementing satellite offices. Here are the models on what offices will be in post-pandemic tine:

 

  • As it was: Employees return to the office and resume a regular nine-to-five routine. The office is centralized but a bit more hygienic and flexible.

  • Clubhouse: Employees come into the office when they need to collaborate and then go home to complete their concentrated work. The office functions as a social hub, where people gather to connect, interact, and collaborate.

  • Activity-based working: Employees work from an office but are not assigned to a certain desk. Instead, they spend their days switching between conference rooms, phone booths, hot desks, and lounges.

  • Hub and spoke: Employees work from smaller satellite offices in the suburbs and areas near their homes, rather than driving to a huge office in the central business center. This eliminates the need for employees to commute to a central office while yet allowing them to communicate with coworkers face to face.

  • Fully virtual: Employees work from home — or anywhere they like — letting businesses to avoid costly rentals and continue what they started during the pandemic.

 

Each model has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. While activity-based working saves space, it also necessitates a considerable cultural shift. The hub-and-spoke concept appears reasonable, but it divides a workforce by geographic location rather than project or job function. Returning to the office "as it was" is a soothing thought for many, but it will only seem familiar if the majority of the employees return. Whatever happens, it appears that some degree of working from home will continue, implying fewer workers in the office, more remote phone conversations, and nothing remaining exactly as it was. The prevalent western structure, on the other hand, does not always apply to our local situation. However, we can try combining the ideas from each model to create a more appropriate office setting.

 

PROPOSED MODELS


Considering the local setting and studying the factors affecting the remote work setup of offices and workers, we can propose a model that may work and can be applied.

Hybrid model in a traditional office framework. This model will be based on a centralized office renovated to accommodate hybrid spaces for employees. We assume on this model that the company are not going to change their office framework but rather they are willing to change or add spaces that are needed in order to adapt on a hybrid setting.

Hub and spoke model with access to virtual communication. These satellite offices situated within or near the community of the employees will be an extension of their home where they have touchdown areas that they can focus on work away from distractions. But these offices may or may not allow clients to visit, depending on the location and needs of the company. And in order for them to connect to other satellite offices, it is equipped with modern technologies and provision of space to accommodate virtual gatherings.

 

ZONES AND AREAS


Based on Carlos Valera, architect, “post pandemic offices should have two zones which are Employee zone and Visitor’s zone. Ideally, these zones should have separate entrances and air-conditioning and filtration systems to provide more control in preventing the spread of viruses in case of another pandemic”. We can adopt this idea and further expound it by adding new zones and provide each zones specific areas. Each zone can have different spaces depending on the need of the office/company. “Employee zone” may have a productivity area, collaborative area, communal area and private zone, while “Visitor’s zone” might have a control area, public area and semi-private zone.


First, the Productivity Area is explained under the “Employee Zone.” This area would be designed to resemble a pre-pandemic office workstation where returning employees could work privately and quietly. It focuses on employee productivity and provides private workstations for employees to use. Furthermore, this office layout can complement a company's skeletal or rotational setup. This area can also be used for hoteling and hot desking. Traditional workstation setup can ensure employee safety due to partitioning, but that does not mean we have to go back to how it was; we can still be innovative, with workstation furniture that can be configured and be flexible.


Collaborative area, this space serves as a breathing space for employees, allowing them to come together and discuss office projects in a more informal setting. Spaces here provide a variety of postures, including sitting, standing, lounging, and perching, allowing for a variety of tasks to be completed more effectively. This is the most challenging space to design in a post-pandemic office. You must consider each user's safety while maintaining the collaborative nature of the space.


Communal area, the difference between collaborative and communal area is that collaborative area focuses more on productivity and work while on the communal area is for leisure, utility and support. However, this area can still serve as a collaborative space where employees can discuss work-related topics in a more relaxed setting.

Under the Private area, are traditional spaces like conference room, meeting rooms and huddle room that gives privacy for a group of people. However, in pandemic and post-pandemic situations, private nooks and phone booths or video call booths are also beneficial for employees who require privacy as individuals. It can also serve as a separate area for employees to use for virtual meetings and other purposes. These areas can be implemented in both large and small offices.


Under the Visitor’s zone, Control area, as the name says, this controls the in and out of users in the office, also providing a place for sanitation and security in the office. This space can act as sanitation area where products or other technologies can be put and implemented to prevent the entry of harmful particles. For the security, this space can be a vestibule or holding area. As safety and sanitation is the forefront of designing a post pandemic office, this area is a must.


Public area is where the lobby is, it is adjacent to your control area, semi private area and on Employee zone. As the most common space in the office, public areas are for receiving clients and waiting areas for people that have business in your office.

Semi private area is a flexible space directly connected to public area and employee zone where employees and clients can use either for private meeting or public discussion. By providing this flexible space to discuss things on the premise of the office it can prevent people to go on a denser place.



These zones and areas, as you can see, are interconnected and can complement one another. Combinations of these spaces can improve the built-environment of an office, resulting in an improvement in the space's mood. Each area on the two zones should be complimented with technologies that is best suitable for the space to enhance its sanitary and functionality. And by implementing proper proximity and considering the privacy and personality of the space and user, these spaces can further enrich employee’s wellbeing.

 

TAKEAWAY

As a company we should consider and restudy the purpose of an office, we must understand the social demographic and economic status of our employees when weighing these potential workplace options. Offices should evolve, adapt, and be flexible in response to what is happening and what will happen, and if there is one lesson learned about the workplace during the pandemic, it may be that working from home was not better or worse than working from an office, but that each had its benefits.



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