From added health requirements to new employee expectations and flex work models, navigating when and how to fully reopen is no simple process.
“When workers do return, they’ll expect more,” said Luckett & Farley’s Luke Kinne, who has helped numerous Kentucky businesses redesign their office environments. “Companies should take a deep look at the flexibility, adaptability and resiliency of their physical spaces now.”
Every company has different demands. To determine the best course of action for your business, start with these five questions.
What does your team need?
“Your people are your biggest asset,” said Kinne. “Focus on them first.”
A hybrid work model is likely the future of business. A recent study by Gartner showed that 55% of employees prefer working remotely at least three days a week and 82% of companies plan to allow employees to work from home some of the time.
By discovering how your employees, clients and coworkers feel about returning to the office and what they need to feel comfortable comes first. Every member of your team, from interns to CEOs, should be included to uncover any potential problem areas before they become issues.
Luckett & Farley Office in Downtown Louisville (Courtesy Luckett & Farley)
“Conversations with our team about returning to the office after the COVID-19 shutdown reminded us of one of the fundamental principles of good design — that a space should serve its user,” said Kinne. “A physical office space’s goal should be to meet each individual’s changing needs.”
While there are many benefits to working in an office, there are also a lot of benefits to working from home. Luckett & Farley, like many businesses, found that almost everyone wanted to maintain some combination of working in the office and home going forward.
Kinne, who serves as Interior Design Department Manager at the Louisville-based architecture firm, suggests considering both short-term and long-term changes. Upgrades to your physical places and company culture can boost productivity, flexibility and comfort, which will maintain current needs and set the company up for success in the future.
How healthy is your office?
Raise your hand if you knew anything about your office’s HVAC system or the particulars of air circulation this time last year.
The COVID-19 pandemic shined a light on how germs are transmitted and where infection risks are elevated – and made everyone keenly aware of their environments. Healthy precautions and upped cleaning routines are likely to continue after the threat of COVID-19 has passed.
“Good design is also about what you can’t see. filtration system, low-emitting building materials, and flow between spaces all impact the quality of the air you breathe,” said Kinne.
Surfaces matter too. High-touch and high-traffic areas will need to be wiped down frequently without wearing down – so be sure your finishes are selected wisely. Wood and fabric may feel warm and welcoming, but will be harder to keep clean.
“Cleanability, durability and sustainability come first,” said Kinne. “Materials need to be studied and considered to make balanced selections that are mindful of our health and the broader environment.”
Beyond physical health, mental health and employee wellbeing is also vital. At home, everyone has a corner office. Employees will expect more as they return to physical office spaces – looking to replicate window views, natural elements, easy access to outdoors and comfortable shared spaces for downtime.
Donan Engineering Office in Louisville (Courtesy Luckett & Farley)
“Many offices were incorporating these health and wellness features pre-pandemic,” said Kinne. “Our corporate commercial clients are taking cues from the hospitality, higher education and health care industries to make smart changes to keep people healthy and productive. Make your office space a benefit to your employees.”
Is your tech future-ready?
Video conferencing and online-only presentations are here to stay, and offices will need more than strong Wi-Fi to keep up.
Beyond capabilities for webcams, microphones and screens, you’ll need to make sure your overall network has the ability to power a more tech-dependent future. You may need to upgrade your servers, increase network capacity, add more power outlets and increase overall tech connections to keep up.
“One of the things office environments often overlook is sound quality,” said Kinne. “Listen to the acoustics of each environment to ensure your clients and coworkers clearly hear your message. Our clients have installed telepresence rooms studios and even added echo minimizing acoustic materials to prepare for the influx of video conferencing post-pandemic.”
How flexible are your workspaces?
“Flexible office design is not a new movement,” said Kinne. “Luckett & Farley has been helping corporations, universities and government entities redesign their work environments to be more adaptable for years.”
A recent PwC survey showed that collaborating with team members and building relationships were the top-rated needs in a physical office space. Business owners and managers should think about what types of work their company does and build spaces that foster the meetings and heads-down time employees need.
Texas Roadhouse Headquarters in Louisville (Courtesy Luckett & Farley)
If a hybrid work environment is for you, you may have room to ditch some desks and create more informal work and collaboration spaces with moveable furniture. Consider your needs for outward-facing events, formal meetings and even quiet time. Open offices may not be for everyone, and places for a confidential phone call or distraction-free environment are as necessary as group spaces.
“Flexible spaces will be useful no matter what kind of work model shifts happen down the line,” said Kinne. “Expandable breakout rooms and adaptable conferencing settings like we created for Texas Roadhouse’s corporate headquarters or “scrum’ spaces like we have at our own office offer moveable elements to accommodate any type of meeting.”
Is your office a benefit to your employees?
Flexible work/life balance and healthy offices are proven to boost talent attraction and retain top employees for the long term. Offering increased flexibility can help your business, but it may be beneficial to give employees even more good reasons to chose to come into the office.
Beyond attracting millennials with empty ink cartridges back to the office to print, companies are thinking about additional amenities that you can’t find at home.
Big fan of working at your local coffee shop? Texas Roadhouse designed its corporate office to incorporate collaborative coffee bars, lounge and dining areas that create relaxed workspaces that still reflected their brand.
Texas Roadhouse Headquarters in Louisville (Courtesy Luckett & Farley)
“Bring your company’s personality into the design,” said Kinne. “For Texas Roadhouse, that meant Southwest-inspired elements, lots of sunny spaces with exterior views, and teamwork-focused functionality for employee engagement and training activities.”
Startups and established corporate services have very different cultures – and their office space amenities reflect that. This could mean an in-house fitness center, on-site childcare, bicycle storage or a even company garden depending on the needs of your workforce. If you make the physical office space a supportive and functional place for your team.