What kinds of spaces should we have in the office?
Councils know that their office spaces will have to change – not just to help those in the office to work better and smarter but also to accommodate the way a hybrid organisation will function. Staff have different working arrangements and individual needs, priorities and interests.
To help you determine the right spaces for the right activities in a hybrid office, we have identified three types of work activity:
- Heads down (activities that require deep work and concentration)
Whilst many employees find deep work easier to accomplish at home, this is not the case for everyone. For example, those with children or difficult home environments may want to be in the office for activities that require more concentration. Offices therefore need to have suitable environments for ‘heads down’ activities, which may include:
- Provide adequate desk setups for staff. This includes having good quality monitors on desks, an internet connection and a place to charge digital devices. Organisations may also want to explore having webcams on the monitors to allow for virtual meetings (if they want staff to make these calls from their desks).
- Minimise noise and other distractions. In open plan offices, noise can be a major hindrance to concentration and productivity, particularly if people are taking calls at their desks. To combat this, councils may want to designate some areas of their offices as ‘quiet zones’ in the same way that libraries do. Alternatively, there are furniture solutions to help minimise how far noise carries. For example, Brent Council has installed sound baffle beams in its ceilings and Camden Council is piloting sound-absorbing temporary walls between collaboration and individual working zones.
- Heads up (regular meetings with colleagues or third parties)
To understand how meetings might be held, it is important to consider three possible meeting types:
- In-person meetings should be simple enough for organisations, given that this is how they occurred historically! In the future, however, different types of meeting areas might be needed depending on the nature of the meeting. For example, meetings where sensitive information will be shared might require private rooms but for a quick team ‘touch base’ on short notice, a meeting space in an open-plan environment might be suitable.
- Remote meetings that involve participants calling individually from their devices will probably require two different spaces. For more private calls, there should be private spaces available, such as individual sound-cancelling ‘pods’ (although these are notoriously expensive) or sheltered booths out of the way of colleagues. Alternatively, calls could be taken at the employee’s desk (but this could be distracting if dozens of people are taking calls in the same area).
- Hybrid meetings (some people in a room, others attending remotely) will require dedicated hybrid meeting rooms. Camden Council’s experience testing different layouts for hybrid meetings revealed that best practice involves having two large television screens at the head of a desk so that those in the room can see the necessary resources (e.g. presentation slides) and the faces of the remote participants. It was also important to have an HD video camera so that those joining remotely can clearly see the faces of those in the meeting room.
- Heads together (collaboration)
Collaboration activities have been shown to be accomplished better in person but they may take different forms and require different spaces.
- Encourage digital collaboration. If a team wants to create something together digitally, a device such as a Microsoft Surface Pro might be suitable. Team members can use whiteboard functions or edit documents together with multiple different inputs simultaneously on one big screen. The device can also be paired with a webcam and microphone so that it can be used with remote participants.
- Repurpose unused spaces. Creative office managers may choose to reimagine and repurpose unused spaces as breakout zones. For example, Camden Council has repurposed certain areas around acrylic walls on each floor so that teams can write on them with marker pens and post sticky notes.
- Provide dedicated spaces. Depending on the organisation’s needs, it can use the same rooms for ‘heads up’ and ‘heads together’ activities or create dedicated spaces for collaborative meetings. This might be a classroom-style room for presentations or a room that has a particularly large screen and a camera to capture the presenter, screen and audience.