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How the pandemic changed our outlook on workplace design

Luring us back into the office was never going to be easy, so architects are finding ways to make modern workspaces virtually irresistible.

After spending months working from the comforts of our own homes (and beds) we’ve all been armed with fresh expectations for what office spaces should look and feel like.

Architects know that employees are now seeking out workplaces that prioritise their overall sense of wellness and safety. Spaces that achieve these factors while scoring high on eco-friendliness also win huge brownie points in the eyes of Gen-Z.

So in London, where 8 million people live and work, tech giants like Google and Meta have been pumping money into brand office buildings that speak to these modern needs.

The result is low-carbon emitting, flexible spaces dotted with greenery, natural hues, large windows, and comfort-focused working areas.

Credit: Southworks

Health is wealth, baby

South of the river, the borough of Southwark has seen the introduction of a 70,000 square foot building called Southworks. It has been named the ‘world’s smartest building’ and was designed with health and wellness at its forefront.

Inside is a sensor which acts as the building’s ‘brain’ to regulate internal and external environments – including air quality, light, noise levels, and occupancy. This feature earned the building the Platinum Smart Building Certification.

Earthy tones, wooden panels, and large windows with full scope city-views (even in the bathrooms) aim to improve workers’ productivity while enhancing their physical and mental well-being.

The open, airy spaces provide a feeling of being close to the outdoors, now that city-dwellers are spending more time underground in order to get back into the office.

Credit: FORE

A focus on carbon-neutrality

While being stuck at home may have felt insufferable for some, our planet was given a much-needed break from carbon emissions thanks to a drop in commutes and largely deserted city buildings.

In fact, total greenhouse gas emissions dropped by 9.5 percent in the UK and by 2 billion tonnes globally – the largest absolute decline in history.

Off the back of this, architects are striving to make their buildings operate in a way that is not only aesthetically beautiful for employees, but kinder to the planet too.

This summer in Bankside, the UK’s first all-electric, net-zero office will open its doors. Located next to the Thames, Arbor will serve as a smart and sustainable workplace for companies committed to reducing their environmental impact.

Massive, 6m high windows allow for natural light to pour into the building, increasing worker productivity and reducing the hourly need for artificial light.

According to Arbor’s website, it is the UK’s first major fossil fuel free mixed-use estate and has been carbon-zero in operation from day 1.

Credit: FORE

Bringing home to work

One office building created by FORE Partnerships is looking to bring that at-home feeling to their office spaces.

Here, you won’t find ugly cubicles or tight, neutral kitchen spaces. Instead, there’s a gorgeous open space kitchen complete with an island, a couch-dotted living room area, a group seating dining table, a library, and a TV room.

FORE’s space doesn’t neglect climate-friendly technologies, either. It uses smart sensors to control air quality and a special outdoor paint that neutralises greenhouse gas emissions.

The company has announced that several additional green technologies are currently being tested inside the building, turning the space into a ‘laboratory’ for tech that will – if successful – be used FORE’s future building projects.

Changing our attitudes about the workplace

The pandemic may have flipped the entire world on its head, but it also gave us an opportunity to re-evaluate what we viewed and accepted as normal for so long.

For many, flexibility towards full-time in office work has become non-negotiable. For others, incorporating relaxing areas in the office through the addition of bean bags, plants, or sofas would make the morning commute feel more worthwhile.

But the pandemic also shifted our perspective on what is important. Most people can agree that our health, mental wellbeing, and feeling of freedom at work – where we spend a large portion of our time – are high on the list.

Despite the reality that all employers won’t be able to provide the luxurious designs we just explored, the pandemic has leveraged employee’s arguments for works environments that are generally pleasant to be in.

And considering that Gen-Z is prioritising being happy over job loyalty, there’s never been a better time for companies to start listening.


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