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Future of office design post-pandemic

Interior: MediaCityUK Tomorrow in Salford (Chapman Taylor for Peel Media and L&G Capital)

Future Cities Forum is beginning a new series of discussions around the ‘return to work’, post-pandemic, and how office interior design will change to accommodate new ideas. We were delighted to interview Gavin King, who has recently been appointed as a Director at Chapman Taylor in the UK to reinforce and expand the company’s capability in the office sector.

Gavin spoke about the need to put human beings at the centre of office interior design, using the core values of an organisation to determine the appropriate shape of working environments while also considering the real benefits of retrofit.

He explained:

‘Offices will need to be more bespoke for clients and an embodiment of ideas that they hold dear. Employees returning to work need to feel that the design is about them and their values. Individuals will be coming back for different reasons, but my philosophy is that design happens with you, not to you. I like to get to know my client and the end users really well because we are designing for human beings, and it is important to know who they are to ensure our design is right for them.

‘We need a more organic approach, post-Covid, and will have to provide reasons for wanting to come into the office; otherwise, people will prefer to just work from home. We carried out an attitudes survey with a recent client, and the top reason for wanting to come back to a workspace was social interaction and the ability to better communicate, such as being able to pick up on body language and other social cues. Pre-Covid, it was typically the finance team that wanted to be in the office, but they now find they can work perfectly well from home; it is the likes of marketing teams that want to come back to collaborate.

‘The trend towards creating a “home from home” feel in the office was under way before the pandemic, but it is now becoming more important. The emphasis is now to show employees that things which affects mental and physical wellbeing, such as air quality and acoustics, are being tackled in office design.

‘We have been talking to several clients who are interested in how offices can adapt to cut down on the spread of germs, including potential new forms of virus that might emerge. We are considering a diverse range of approaches, including looking at materials that have anti-microbial properties and easy-wipe surfaces.

‘The design of working environments is crucially important, and we work with businesses to expand their understanding of the sorts of spaces they need as an organisation, while getting away from the tradition of people working in silos. Clients really do need our help in this area. It is not just about what you need to function, it is about what environment you want to create for the best performance in your organisation.

‘Universities are also experiencing change, including a move away from the concept of academics working in one-person offices, with all the impact that format has on heating and cooling emissions, particularly when they are only used 10% of the time. The goal should be to build only the amount of space you need to use and to be sustainable and climate aware. One-person offices are not environmentally or financially the best solution.

‘The pandemic has been hard on everyone, so I don’t mind a bit of whimsy, like a billiards table in the corner of the office, if that’s what the client wants. However, it must be backed up with strategic thinking, where the resulting environment encourages people to do their jobs better and enjoy them more.

‘Our job as designers is to ensure that people don’t have to battle the workspace; you do not want to put anything into an office that prevents workers from doing their jobs well. It is all about empowerment and encouraging behavioural change. Individuals need to be able to move between spaces, if their task requires it – perhaps to a quiet area to think more clearly, or to more collaborative spaces to discuss ideas with colleagues. I hate the concept of “hot-desking”; I would rather have “not desking”, so people can move around more freely. Thinking in terms of desks is counterproductive.

‘Behavioural change also covers teaching people how to get the best out of their new workplace. Acknowledging the need to manage the changes in how people work is key to the success of a project. People need support during the transition to new ways of working, and that is even more important as the commercial workplace sector attempts to reassess what an office needs to be.

Gavin has more than 25 years of award-winning experience working as an interior designer with global clients, government agencies, academia and professional services organisations. He passionately believes in working with clients and collaboratively including them in the design process. He added:

‘One of the key reasons I joined Chapman Taylor was because they share many of my ideas on people-centred design and have an inspiring ambition to become one of the leading names in the workplace design and consultancy sector across the UK and beyond. My expertise and experience in workplace interiors dovetails nicely with the company’s excellent creative and technical strengths, and this combination will help us to provide a new generation of flexible, wellbeing-friendly and user-centred workplaces for our clients.

Watch out for more details of coming forums, where we will be discussing the experience of employees returning to the office and major city investments in new offices around the UK.


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