If you think you don’t need a work space, think again

The post-pandemic office will be a space for collaboration, creativity and a central hub for a business’s culture, says TOG’s product director

The idea that the pandemic was going to sound the death knell for the office was seized on by many last year but it was far too hastily arrived at.

When we went into the first lockdown, we were just coming into spring, the weather was good and working from home was still a novel experience for many. One year on, what we’ve been hearing from our clients has been echoed by what I have been hearing from my teams and by what I’ve been feeling myself – this is not a sustainable or healthy way to work.

Working from home is relentless. You probably didn’t realise it at the time, but the daily commute is an opportunity to think about the day ahead and wind down before you get home. That differentiation between work and home has now gone. At home, you might feel like you can go on and on working, and you don’t sense how much it takes out of you until you stop. Whereas at the office, you naturally break – you come out of a meeting and you might pause to chat to someone, or go and get some fresh air. You’re not always completing work tasks or in constant virtual communication on email or calls.

Video and voice calls zap your energy more than face-to-face interaction too, somehow. The natural way of communicating with people is fundamentally impossible when you’re not in the same environment. And business can’t embed its culture without the social aspect of team building and communication: the onboarding, training and mentoring – those serendipitous moments where you bump into someone on the stairs or whilst you are grabbing a cup of coffee. The need for a business to have a base, a home, is even more important now than it was before Covid, but in a different way.

Of course, working from home isn’t all bad by any means. Certain tasks are probably better served by working undisturbed within your own space. And inevitably we won’t go back to a five-day week and nine-to-five culture because it’s been proven that we can all work flexibly now. But it is nonetheless hard to be spontaneous and innovative on a Zoom call.

How often have you been faced with a work problem you just can’t figure out? It happens to TOG’s design team all the time. We huddle around drawings, sketch things, brainstorm – and we just can’t crack it. Inevitably, the solution appears by taking a break and walking around the block a few times. When we reconvene, there’s always someone who’s had a bright idea and says “Hey, what about doing this?” And on the conversation goes, reinvigorated.

That’s really why you need a work space: the centrepiece of the post-pandemic office is collaboration. How do you demonstrate to a new joiner what the company culture is without them being able to see it, hear it, feel it? Think about the amount of friendships that are made through work, and how these in turn increase engagement and retention at companies. It’s virtually impossible to build those relationships when you’re not all in situ together.

This means that the post-pandemic office will have to work harder. An office will no longer just be a space with lots of desks and chairs for people to do task-based jobs and trawl through emails. It will need to become a space for training, collaboration, ideation and creativity – with a huge focus on wellbeing, because businesses are going to be challenged to entice people who’ve got comfortable working from home back into the office.

Work space design now needs to be about all the things that you just can’t access at home: fitness studios, meditation rooms, great coffee. When we think about wellbeing at TOG, we think about the intrinsic design of our spaces and the needs of the people who will use them, not just the physical positioning of walls and task chairs. There are so many factors in fostering wellbeing in work spaces: the nutritional quality of the food and beverages; natural daylight; heating, cooling and ventilation as well as the flow of the building which should encourage people to walk and take the stairs in order to move from one setting to another. All these things matter. In order to move forward, work space design has to be holistic.

On that note, the number of people I speak to at the moment who use the phrase ‘Groundhog Day’ is crazy. I understand that: it’s difficult to mix things up if you’re always working from home in the same environment. When I talk about the office working harder post-pandemic, that’s the big thing that I think it needs to bring to the table: a compelling blend of different environments and amenities to suit varied activities and all of a business’s personalities. A place to be inspired, a place to relax, a place to be energised – the list goes on.

We’ve just opened a new work space on Regent Street, Liberty House. The décor is quite playful. We took the next-door department store Liberty as our reference, with lots of colour and textiles that create a really vibrant space. It wasn’t a response to Covid – we’ve been designing the building for over two years – but it feels just right for what we need right now. The building feels like a wake-up call: you’re going to walk in and feel like you want to get down to work.