The office, but not as we knew it: five (flexible) ideas to adapt

As people return to the office – nervously, perhaps – and in many cases not as often as back in those pre-COVID days, a lot is in flux – from flexible layouts to working hours and team configurations.

Months into working from home, including home schooling and other family commitments, some aspects of remote working may be starting to pall.

Not everyone enjoys working from home, nor has enough space to carry it off. Younger staff members may live in shared or cramped accommodation, others be in busy households with extended family.

In that respect, the routine and conformity of the office, as The Economist puts it, may still hold an appeal. But change, inevitably, is afoot.

As employees return, gradually, offices look set to become more of a hub for employees and clients than a fixed centre. In the process, some longstanding features of the workplace may become a thing of the past.

One-way corridors, perspex screens, extra space between desks among the changes in response to the pandemic? Sure, but here are five more ideas you may want to consider.

1. Lockers

  • OUT WITH the filing cabinets and clothing rails. Previously you might have needed this storage space – for archives, that old fax machine, and reams of paper for the photocopier. But after several months of remote working, you realise the old files can be stored elsewhere, the fax machine recycled. So that freed-up space
  • IN WITH lockers, ideally easy to move and of varying sizes. Different team members have varied needs for  storage from a folding bike to gym gear or a backpack.


Image courtesy of Elite Office Furniture

2. Physical distancing

  • GONE WITH claims that a certain desk or corner of the office is “my territory”
  • INSTEAD: long bank of desks interspersed with transparent screens and with ample space for physical distancing. This allows colleagues to plug in their laptop and finish preparing that client meeting.


wrist watch

3. Modular flexible meeting rooms

  • BEFORE perhaps you had cramped and confined meeting rooms
  • AN OPPORTUNITY NOW for glass-partitioned meeting rooms, modular in size with folding or sliding walls, flexible to allow for larger gatherings that still reassure people on safety or smaller dedicated Zoom rooms and meeting pods
  • Break-out areas may also become bigger, allowing team members to spend time together and to feel relaxed. So while teammates may not see each other in person as often, ideas can still flow and the creative stumble-upon remains a possibility


4. Flexible segregation and zoning

  • OUT WITH rigid use of physical space
  • IN WITH flexible segregation and zoning
  • While Network Rail is using a Bluetooth app to ensure physical distancing in the office, the BBC reported, there are other routes to achieve that end too.
  • One example: a round shape around a circular-based chair, guiding colleagues to keep a safe distance from the person who’s sitting down.

Flexible workspace

5. Shower rooms

  • PREVIOUSLY you only had staff toilets, as employees would shower at the nearby gym
  • BUT NOW some may prefer to give the gym a miss, also to avoid crowded trains if their journey to the office allows that.

Private equity group Carlyle, for instance, expects its employees to walk or cycle to work and to avoid public transport if possible, according to the Financial Times.

With differing ways of getting to work, cycling and running among them, your teammates will appreciate that shower room with space to change.

“No company ever wanted an office, they wanted productive employees — and the office was just one way to create that”, the BBC cites workplace property expert Anthony Slumbers as saying.

So as we all find our way towards the elusive new normal, making the office hub a flexible and welcoming space – comfortable, but not too much like home – can be part of the solution.

We are delighted to once again work with Brian McGee  and thank him for co-authoring this first article of the series.