January 29, 2021

Returning to the office: Why, When, How? And, could office pods be the answer?

We look at the potential options for returning to the office environment when the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions ease.

As the nation continues to embrace home-working amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, the rollout of a vaccine opens the door to a return to the office environment. We’ve already explored whether the Covid-19 pandemic has opened the door to a new, remote-working normal, concluding that regular face-to-face contact is vital to the health, happiness and performance of employees. So, given the inevitability that the vast majority of organisations will return to the office environment in the coming months, we look at what the new normal might look like in offices across the country.

 

Why return to the office?

As our previous blog post discovered, there are many many benefits to working in an office environment, with regular face-to-face contact being the most beneficial aspect of leaving the house to work. Furthermore, the majority of employees forced to work from home during the Covid-19 pandemic have indicated that they feel it’s had a negative impact on their mental health. 

 

When will we return to the office?

In the repeated words of Professor Chris Witty, we just don’t know. As a nation, we have had to quickly adapt to rolling with the pandemic’s punches. When government advisers are asked on specific timeframes, ‘we hope for this, but we don’t know’ seems the staple response. 

However, the UK’s vaccination programme is being well-received. Vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi claimed that he was ‘confident’ the UK would receive enough vaccines to hit their target of vaccinating the top priority groups by mid-February. Of course, this is very positive and will have a knock-on effect on employers and office workers. That being said, it may be the next stage of the vaccine roll-out – from mid-February onwards – that really begins to affect the demographics of offices in the UK.

 

Source: Government briefing, Department of Health via BBC

 

How will we return to the office?

It’s clear that some of the recent changes to the way we work will outlast the pandemic. One major area of consideration is how businesses will physically modify their offices when workers return.  As the Hands, Face, Space campaign has shown, it is important to be able to distance ourselves from other employees during a pandemic – as well as limiting surface spread infection. With the touch and go nature of the pandemic, coupled with the risk of future pandemics, offices may want to be as ‘covid-friendly’ as possible. Over recent months we have seen an increasing number of enquiries for covid-related products, such as Perspex Covid Screens. In addition to these, we are experiencing a rise in demand for office pods and breakout spaces.

 

Whiteley’s Linear Pod

 

What are office pods?

Office pods are essentially a room within a room. They’re usually quiet, private spaces with seating and a table. They can range in size from tiny to big enough to house team meetings and can provide multiple functions, from concentrating on a group call to potentially unplug for a break over a bite to eat.

You can see our range of office pods here.

They also may provide an answer to some workspace issues posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. Office pods may provide employers with an advantage when managing teams into bubbles. For example, different teams may attend on certain days of the week, or meeting spaces may be scheduled on a bubble basis throughout the day. Not only would this make it easier to keep track of and avoid contact through viral transmission, but it also allows for more targeted and manageable clean-up areas and decreases surface transmission. A deep clean of a pod is far more achievable on a day-to-day basis than a deep clean of an entire office. 

As our previous post explained, office pods provide a private and multi-functional space for teams and individuals. When thinking about the mental health ramifications of a mass return to work, some people will no doubt find it more of a tough adjustment than others – as was the case with the move to remote work in lockdown. 

 

Closing thoughts

For many of us, the chance to take a break – either alone over a bite perhaps, or with a colleague –  in a private space may provide a major boost to our mood and subsequent productivity.  Perhaps we should all consider how we want offices to look in a post-pandemic world.

 

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