Five Ways to Create an Office That is Better Than Home

Howard Barnes, creative lead at Rhino Interiors Group, explains how to create a work environment beautiful enough to lure back homeworkers
Howard Barnes

With the UK’s recession expected to worsen in the year ahead and major layoffs becoming the norm, it is no surprise to see more businesses tighten up on pandemic-induced levels of flexibility and recall employees back to the office.

But to achieve this transition effectively it’s vital that business leaders rethink their approach to the workplace and recognise that the once standard office design will no longer cut it.

Once again, it would appear that we are witnessing a marked new phase in the workplace. At one point, of course, it might have seemed that the need for a physical office footprint might be nearing extinction as employers, in their droves, shifted to a predominantly remote-working set up. However, this is changing and fast.

Faced with a gloomy economy and diminished workforce, many major employers are now seeking to keep their human capital in sight by mandating more in-office days and set schedules. Equally, many organisations have already established a hybrid model that works, while for some the remit might be to shift to office-based working in its entirety.

While each business may approach this challenge differently, the likelihood is that any decision will boil down to one major factor; trust. As noted in Stephen R Covey Jr’s revolutionary ‘Speed of Trust’ business book, trust is the operating system of the global economy. It is the glue that holds it all together. Thus, any workplace decision must be built on a mutual understanding and respect, whereby employers remain committed to working equally hard in and out of office and employers trust that they will do so.

Achieving this transition too will require a delicate balancing act between the tension of enforced presenteeism and a more relaxed working modus operandii. Get it wrong and business leaders face the very real risk of negatively impacting retention and recruitment.

With this it becomes vital that organisations boldly question long-held assumptions about how work should be done and the role of the office:

1. Understanding what your office needs to do

An effective hybrid design should create a space that transcends physical and social barriers, creating a much more flexible workspace where groups and teams can collaborate freely as needed and be more creative with each other in person and online.

To achieve this effectively, it’s about understanding exactly what your office needs to do. What are the most important processes for each major business division and function? When and where do most team meetings happen and how often? What type of work can be accomplished better at home or in the office? If, for example, the primary purpose of the office space is to accommodate teamwork rather than individual tasks it might be better to devote 75 per cent of the space to large, open, collaborative space.

Importantly too, it’s always recommended to take employees on the journey, asking for their feedback and input as to how to reenvisage the office in the most effective way possible.

Invertek Atrium: designed by Rhino Interiors

2. Reconfigure the office in line with organisational priorities

With this intel on board, the next step is to intentionally reconfigure the workplace to meet this need and support specific business priorities.

Over recent years, more employers have already pivoted to an open plan workstation model in hopes of promoting better collaboration and productivity. Where team work is key, the hybrid model should take this further and flip it around. As video becomes the norm this will be seen as meetings happen more often in wide open collaborative spaces for a high-energy workforces, while booths and pods will instead provide quiet zones and private spaces for those who do better focused work without distraction.

Here flexibility will be the name of the game, with an onus on configurable office furniture that is easy to move around and can be easily adapted and flexed as needs evolve – say, whether it’s to create an impromptu team huddle area for sharing ideas or a small informal area for one-to-one meeting. Alongside this, movable boundaries - such as screens and panels – will play a vital role in enabling an added level of privacy as needs dictate.

Put simply, it’s about going much further than providing just a desk. Rather, it’s about enabling employees to choose their workday, through spaces that offer variety and differentiation depending on the scope of task in hand.

3. Merge the physical and virtual

With the office configuration in place, the next focus should centre on finding new ways to merge the physical and the virtual for a more seamless office experience. After all, many of us will have experienced dialling in to a Zoom call only to be presented on full display to what appears to be the entire board room. This approach can prove both daunting and isolating for working-from-home colleagues, and cause them to feel less engaged. This is even more pertinent for creative work, such as brainstorming sessions, where remote workers may feel less involved without the physical cues afforded by the office – such as physical gestures and body language - and limited oversight of tools such as screens and white boards.

The answer lies in rethinking how the physical and virtual office spaces can be meshed together. For example, most conference rooms tend to feature a long table with a monitor at the end. In this way, in-person attendees will sit around the table while remote workers will feature as small grids on the screen. To level the playing field, a much better approach is to equip all participants the virtual technology to both see and hear each other the same way whether its in-person or remotely. Another good tip for is to set up a monitor and webcam in the office to ensure remote team members are ‘there’ for all ad-hoc conversations during working hours and feel involved.

4. Create a destination not an obligation

But the considerations do not quite there. Ultimately, If you are compelling staff to come in, it is an obligation. But creating a place which is enjoyable and uplifting it shifts to becoming a destination.

Here, it’s about creating a place where people genuinely want to be with design cues such as warmer lighting, softer acoustics and purposefully chosen colourways that intuitively feel welcoming and collaborative. More so, the clever integration of natural light, fresh air and greenery can prove incredibly powerful in creating a calming, homely atmosphere, while ‘little’ extras such as high spec kitchens and coffee stations are also enduringly inviting.

5. Forgo the gimmicks

As a final point, it’s important to forgo the gimmicks. Over recent years we’ve seen some leading brands introduce everything from free lunches, after-work drinks on the company, free manicures and – yes - even fluffy slippers. In our experience, these types of schemes don’t make really make a difference. In fact, in some cases they can work to the opposite effect in reminding employees of what awaits them at home.

Rather to get employees on side it’s all about creating a dynamic, productive and flexible workspace which enables them to work smarter not harder and that they love working in.

Amid the current economic climate, It’s no surprise to see more businesses are calling employees back into the office. With this transition it’s important that they also rethink and reconfigure the office space to create an environment that is flexible, inspiring, productive and, ideally, more appealing than home.

About Rhino Interiors

Birmingham-based Rhino Interiors is a leading office design consultancy committed to creating inspirational workspaces across the UK. Key clients include The Mailbox, Barcode Warehouse, Gousto, Domino’s, James & James and many more.

Written by
Howard Barnes