2020 was a unique year. We were all faced with new challenges — not just in the physical workplace, but in our ideas of comfort, wellness, rejuvenation, the desire to socialize and the need to collaborate and work together. In reflecting on the year and the lessons we have learned, it is clear that 2021 will require new ways of thinking and new solutions that will help us work, feel and be better.
As we look ahead, trends are continuing to shift towards flexibility and workplace wellness. Outdoor work settings that support biophilia are on the rise, physical spaces and workplace policies are evolving to be more mindful and human-centric, and above all, adaptability and flexibility are now the norm.
Below we explore the trends on the horizon in the new year and how we can (and must!) adapt our perspective to meet the changing needs of today’s workplaces.
The challenges of 2020 have accelerated a number of workplace trends – like mobility, choice, health and wellbeing – and have helped shape future expectations for the office. As we look ahead to 2021, the workplace will have to become more adaptable to change and evolve as we continue to learn from the past. A human-centered approach to workplace strategy will help create and maintain a constructive company culture that supports workers both in and out of the office.
Earlier in 2020, Architectural Digest examined the ways workplaces will need to put these lessons into action. To best adapt for the future, organizations need to think deeply about long-term strategies to bring people together in a safe and healthy way. Below are some of the considerations that should be at the top when developing these strategies:
As more employees return to physical workplaces, a newfound focus on health and wellness will be at the forefront of office design. Physical and mental wellness must be considered and supported in the physical workplace (furniture and space division) and in policies, resources and training for managers and their teams.
Research published by AllWork from Gensler’s work-from-home study found that a hybrid model is likely necessary for many companies, with employees splitting time between the office and home each week. As a result, more elements of home will find their way into the workplace in order to create spaces that are more physically comfortable and emotionally engaging. Designing with these elements of comfort in mind can help combat stress in the workplace and the physical problems that may accompany it. Encouraging social interactions will also be an important step to supporting workplace wellness, since many employees have only connected virtually in 2020. Finding ways to encourage workers to safely engage with each other, whether through socially-distant meetings outside, virtual events, or connecting with the team on social media, will be important. Everyone needs human interaction — especially today.
Wellness considerations must also extend beyond physical support. New policies, procedures and resources should be put in place to increase transparency and offer clarity on how organizations are working to support wellbeing. Managers can help set the tone for a team, so training leadership to balance their workloads and establish a positive working environment for their teams will be impactful. Asking how you can help is an easy way to get feedback about your team’s unique needs. Each individual will feel comfortable with different parameters in place – social distance and physical barriers could help inform your overall strategy.
Embracing outdoor workspaces whenever possible can greatly contribute to workplace wellness and satisfaction. According to Commercial Property Executive’s exploration of outdoor work areas, safe outside spaces are paramount to maintaining mental and physical health, making sure employees feel connected to the spaces where they spend their time. Steelcase research has also shown that these amenities, combined with the right furniture and proper safety protocols (such as physical distancing and surface cleaning) can give employees additional freedom in choosing how and where they work most comfortably and productively.
Outdoor workspaces can also help organizations re-establish a sense of community for people who have been working remotely for months. “People love to be outside for all kinds of reasons, but often the spaces at work are designed for social interactions, like having lunch outside, or respite,” says Mary Elaine Roush, Steelcase applications design manager, “but it’s possible to create productive outdoor workspaces where people can benefit creatively and feel safe.” Comfortable outdoor meeting spaces give people a place to connect with each other and nature. Investing in outdoor technology and furniture solutions can create new opportunities for your team to take advantage of the benefits of biophilia. Employees should have a space to connect with nature and feel relaxed and recover from mental fatigue.
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