25 May, 2021 | By The Room Architecture and Design
Much has been written about how COVID-19 has totally transformed the way we think about work, the workplace and the workforce. Cambodia was seemingly spared the worst of the pandemic in 2020, and so while many across the world grappled with having to work from home, office life here for the most part continued as normal. This year has so far proven a different story. Designers everywhere have been feverishly speculating about the shifting role of office spaces, most recognising that the hybrid model of work – a combination of remote and in-person – will likely be widely adopted. The consensus is that office culture is by no means dead, yet the longer we work from home the more our expectations of what an office environment can provide us will evolve. Today, the workplace should not simply be a place to conduct work, but should be able to enhance the work that is conducted there. In other words, the post-pandemic office is about people, and we are now in the era of the worker – their needs, preferences, health and overall wellbeing.
We are now considering how the post-pandemic office should take shape in Southeast Asia. Both here and across the region, smaller living spaces and limited infrastructure, including poor internet connection, has meant the sudden jump to remote working has been less of a smooth transition for many industries. A survey looking across the Asia Pacific suggested that a majority of managers would prefer office-based staff yet would allow remote work for one or two days per week. In the region’s more mature markets, employers are expected to embrace decentralising business hubs. For emerging economies in Asia, growth in the services sector is still driving demand for office space despite the pandemic. Unlike other capital cities in the region, Phnom Penh doesn’t have as big a commuting problem, which suggests an acceleration of workers returning to the office.
Businesses should see this time as an opportunity to not only futureproof the workplace, but build a company culture that adopts radical new ways of working, behaving and interacting – for the better. COVID-19 has provided a jumping off point to embrace values that put employees first and to make stuffy, cramped offices a thing of the past. We’ve outlined four essential questions for businesses to address in a post-pandemic office:
Office design must now consider how best to minimise the spread of disease. Beyond installing anti-bacterial stations at entrance points and requiring staff and visitors to wear masks, workplaces can borrow lessons from the healthcare industry. Using materials that can be considered medical-grade (stainless steel for example), upgrading MEP design setups, installing contact-free automatic doors and sensored taps in bathrooms are all ways to curb the transmission of germs. New advances in technology, such as UV lights which disinfect the air, are continuously aiding the pursuit of healthy workspaces. Offices can also be laid out so that unnecessary interactions between people are minimised and there is a separate flow for staff and visitors, eventually converging at a central meeting point.
Businesses must place the wellbeing of its employees at the core of any health and safety strategy. Incorporating natural elements into the workplace, from plants to natural lighting, has been proven to reduce stress and improve productivity, creativity and overall motivation. Biophilic design was popular before the pandemic, but in the context of COVID-19 takes on new meaning and new importance.
For creative industries like ours, we value time spent brainstorming in person. In an increasingly digitalised working culture, the office should not only be a place to get work done. It should be a social hub, a place for collaboration and making meaningful relationships – somewhere to learn, connect, innovate, create (when a Zoom call doesn’t quite cut it). This means rethinking your space so that, along with quiet areas for individual focus, it serves a range of collaborative functions. Small gatherings, large meetings, impromptu brainstorms or even more relaxed conversations should be organic and productive. Flexibility can be translated through multi-purpose, adaptable design – walls become white boards, desks and chairs can be arranged and rearranged easily according to needs, whether to separate people or bring them together.
Architects in tropical climates have always known the power of a good breeze. Also now known as the mid-door space – a kind of meeting point between the indoors and outdoors that is gathering popularity in cooler climates too – the option to work in a non-air-conditioned environment not only improves airflow (and saves you money on electricity) but caters to new work styles and preferences. Terraces and balconies should be productive workspaces.
The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification is the most well-known rating system to recognise the best in green building practices. It’s now time to celebrate businesses and buildings that use design to not only put the environment first but put people first. COVID-19 has proven that health and wellness are not passing trends. It’s long overdue for commercial operations to shift their way of thinking. The most future-fit companies understand that we won’t go back to the way things were before. The need to be flexible, responsible and compassionate is not a burden but an opportunity.
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