The workplace has changed significantly in the last couple of years, and there’s unlikely to be any let-up this year. But amid a lot of recent industry noise about a future ‘metaverse’, there are plenty of more immediate priorities for businesses. The pandemic has already shaken up perceptions and expectations of what work should be, and most employees now expect greater flexibility over when and where they do their jobs.
For businesses to encourage attendance back in the office and attract new employees, now is the time for them to re-invent their work spaces and create a better experience for talent, improve collaboration and productivity. That kind of change will require transformational thinking grounded in facts. Ultimately, the aim of this re-invention will be what good companies have always wanted - a safe environment where people can enjoy their work, collaborate with their colleagues, and achieve the objectives of their business. But how do businesses go about improving work environments in a way that boosts employee engagement and wellbeing?
Companies are introducing new ideas, strategies, and technology every day that alter how and where we operate, but some forward thinking businesses are also now taking inspiration from educational environments that have proven solutions for enhanced wellbeing and overall performance. In this article let’s look at a few design ideas and valuable insights from higher education facilities that can re-shape how businesses design their workplaces.
The university experience
Students spends 3-4 years on campus at universities that are designed to facilitate learning, providing inspirational environments and a multitude of work settings, to encourage spontaneous interaction and the concept of eating and learning together. From private work in the technology-rich library facilities, to a stand-up meeting at the bar, to a coffee in a relaxing breakout area, to a group meeting on the outdoor green spaces, universities offer a variety of environments to support a range of tasks.
Students don't 'own' a single space during their time at university. They don't have an office or a desk they can call their own, but what they do have is much more fluid access to a wide range of environments which they share with their fellow students seamlessly. One of the great experiences of university life is that there are so many opportunities to have spontaneous interactions with fellow students, whether in the library or at lunch, a seminar or social event - there are a magnitude of potential encounters compared to the office 'water cooler' moment.
Flexible spaces for work
Higher education campuses, without a doubt, have more space and resources for developing these types of connections and settings. Although most businesses do not have the luxury of large, open spaces, they still want to build a sense of collaboration where face-to-face connection is essential. Businesses want their employees to be inspired, to innovate and to help the company move forward. Putting employees in a sterile environment and providing them with a limited choice of work settings, limits their ability to challenge the norm and come up with breakthrough ideas.
The solution, as it is in higher education environments, can be summed up in one work - flexibility. Modern workplaces can also provide a variety of work environments, allowing workers to pick where and how they work. Furniture that can be moved and replaced, such as stackable chairs and tables and simple storage options for personal items are great examples. When designing for flexibility and agile working, it's also necessary to think about how spaces are used, for example a large conference room could be partitioned into two smaller rooms with a breakout, collaborative area in the middle.
Outdoor areas have long been used by educational institutions to meet the learning demand. And employees who have been accustomed to working from home may benefit from outdoor or open-air spaces as they transition back to the office. An outdoor area that can be used to take a break from work, eat lunch in the sunshine, or that can be used for group meetings, collaboration, or productive focused work is a real plus.
For businesses who do not have access to an outdoor location spacious enough to accommodate such activities, living walls, views of nature, plants and other biophilic design components can be used to incorporate green elements into the workplace. This also produces a relaxing and stimulating environment that helps to relieve stress and boost creativity.
One of the most important aspects of wellbeing in university life is social interactions and catching up with different people. Workplaces that encourage employee interaction build better teams and foster a feeling of community. Employees can have a true feeling of belonging in a well-designed workplace that reflects the business brand and offers opportunities for social interaction.
Traditional desks will continue to exist, but they will no longer be an employee's only option for working. With its simplicity of form, combined with modern connectivity points, Crew worktables from Dams’ Social Spaces portfolio provide the perfect answer for a less corporate modern office. Crew tables are now with a full length power bar and coordinated accessories to provide the power of choice to people by creating flexible, fluid work areas, which has a multitude of psychological and emotional benefits.
The office of tomorrow
Flexible environments that encourage collaboration and promote choice are simply more likely to foster a steady stream of good ideas that will ultimately be the differentiator between a business and its competitors. With more companies embracing flexible office design as a means of competitive advantage in the modern business world, it’s easy to see why the offices of tomorrow will look more like university campuses and less like an office.
Workplace modernisation offers a one-of-a-kind chance to take the lead from the way higher education operates by incorporating health and wellbeing into the daily work experience and elevating its importance in your workforce strategy. It can be a combination of environment and policy that allows employees to thrive both physically and mentally, benefiting the company's overall goals and success.