The Pandemic Pay-Off

There is a silver lining in everything and the pandemic may just be the disruptor we needed to finally achieve that ever-elusive work/life balance. We know that remote work is here to stay, but the office isn’t going anywhere, either. Splitting our working hours between home and a more efficient, effectively designed collaboration hub could be the key to achieving a better relationship with our professional lives.

A more collaborative workspace – where meeting rooms and breakout zones (such as the ones seen at Bartlett & Associates’ McCann project) take priority over workstations – could help promote a better work/life balance in the post-pandemic world.

Life is a balancing act. Achieving a harmonious relationship between work and life is a tightrope walk most of us struggle with. Since the beginning of the pandemic, that struggle is being fought on new ground, with work and home suddenly stuffed within the same four walls. We all left our workplaces – spaces that were carefully created to support working life – and set up on couches and at kitchen tables. Without a separate space to confine our 9-to-5 personas, it all began to run together.

There have been benefits. The trip from the coffee maker to the living room is far less fraught than the rush hour commute. But more than ever, work is bleeding into our personal lives and vice versa. The days of feeling frustrated by weekend work emails don’t seem so bad in a time when you never leave work – because you live there.

While the pandemic may have us looking to rebuild those walls between work and home, it has also opened a door: All this disruption presents an ideal opportunity to finally nail down that always elusive work/life balance.

With employees now accustomed to working alongside the comforts of home, designers will need to find new ways to make staff feel at ease in the office and to reduce the stresses that follow them home. The nature-infused Volaris office, designed by Bartlett & Associates, promotes a sense of wellbeing and a more harmonious relationship with working life.

Designers will support this new symmetry with a shift in balance at the office, which we discussed in our previous piece for Work Design. We know that people are going to be working from home more often, so we won’t need to devote as much space to desking. But to meet the needs of our future workforces, we will need more space to collaborate.

We are already seeing collaborative space take over more of the office footprint, nudging some of the workstations out. The square footage those desks occupied can now accommodate meeting rooms and breakout zones, for groups of various sizes. Social space is also important, so we will want to include more flexible amenities like Town Halls and cafés. These offer a place for meetings large and small, socializing, and company events of all kinds.

With the workplace optimized for collaboration, and a space carved out at home for heads-down tasks, you may find your work week becomes more efficient.

Programs that offer the option to work remotely part of the time and an office when it’s needed is a best-of-both-worlds scenario. Particularly when it comes to work/life balance. We have an office tailored to the things that we can’t do effectively from home: connecting and collaborating with co-workers. And we have the home office, which many find conducive to focused work.

With the workplace optimized for collaboration, and a space carved out at home for heads-down tasks, you may find your work week becomes more efficient. More gets accomplished during regular office hours, and less needs to happen in the evenings and over the weekend.

Hybrid work also offers more personal freedom. Not only does it give you back some of those commute hours, it also provides the flexibility to weave small personal tasks into the work day. You can make a quick trip to the bank instead of that drive downtown. Or stretch your legs throwing in a load of laundry instead of taking laps around the lunchroom. You have more control over your environment – the sounds, the temperature, and yes, the aesthetics. But with employees now accustomed to working alongside the comforts of home, designers will need to find new ways to make them feel at ease in the office. And to reduce the stresses that may follow them home.

Bartlett & Associates’ McCann project

Stress – when it comes to work interrupting life, is there any worse offender? It’s even more pervasive than email. And going back to work is going to be stressful after a long period of avoiding shared spaces. Subtle shifts in design approach will help here as well. More personal space, more comfortable furniture, calming color schemes, and biophilic links will all contribute to a more tranquil atmosphere. The “resimercial” furniture trend that we’ve seen emerge over the last few years is set to explode. We predict a big demand for more attractive task chairs, in particular. Ergonomic seats that can blend in at home, as well as with the more casual collaborative spaces we’ll see in the office.

Right now we’re all burned out on being at home. You’re likely looking forward to enjoying some time in the office, once you and your co-workers are all vaccinated. But truth be told, there’s a good chance you were feeling a bit burned out on the office not so long ago. If in the future we’re no longer spending all day, every day – or even 9 to 5, Monday to Friday – working in the same space, it takes some pressure off of both locations. With a little design ingenuity, the office and home will both be places we look forward to working in. And that will help us all enjoy everything else post-vaccine life has to offer.

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