Workplace Design During Covid-19

As we adapt to living and working while the pandemic continues, the question becomes about legacy. Will Covid-19 leave a significant lasting legacy on the design of our working environment, or will it simply be a case of reigniting temporary measures whenever needed?

Claudia Wald of Mori Space

Claudia Wald is owner of Mori Space, a leading office design company based in Stuttgart, Germany. We spoke to Claudia to find out how workplace design in Germany has been impacted by Covid-19 and to discover her opinions on the legacy the pandemic might leave.

Mori Space is a specialist in the field of office design, which accounts for 80% of our work with the remainder made of private residences and showrooms. Generally, we work with mid-sized companies redesigning, modifying and constructing office interiors. Recently, we signed off on a really interesting refurbishment project in the Black Forest. It saw us create a shared office space, up-cycling existing materials and breaking up the existing tiny single offices. We repurposed partitioning, refreshing and rearranging and used different floor finishes to mark out specific areas.

Mori Space-Claudia Wald-PeopleDoc-Stuttgart
Mori Space-Claudia Wald-weadyou-creative agency-Stuttgart

Have you experienced a demand from clients for leadership on adapting spaces for Covid-19 measures?

At the beginning of 2020, some clients had already put measures in place as a response to the spread of the virus, but the lockdown kicked in, businesses stopped responding to the situation by making changes to their space. It seemed that they just reduced numbers in the office and encouraged people to work from home. Rather than changing space, projects were put on hold, but we’re fully expecting these to come back in 2021.

Are you seeing clients approach you with worries about the long-term feasibility of their space because of the pandemic?

I get the impression that most mid-size companies are being slow in reacting. In fact, it could be argued that they are in a state of denial that the pandemic has accelerated change, that the dynamics of the workplace have altered and that they need to take action to respond. I think the future will see office spaces reshaped and designed to encourage interaction. In many instances, this is in complete contrast to the current situation, that sees separation and remote working as the new norm.

Are clients concerned with how best to adapt spaces beyond the adoption of stick-on vinyl graphics and perspex screens, or are they looking at the fundamental design of the space?

Not yet, but eventually they will have to rethink the work environment and how it represents the values of the company. The Covid-19 pandemic has changed employee attitudes to the workplace and companies will need to address this through significant changes in the office environment.

So, do you think this response to Covid-19 is a temporary one, or that it has lasting implications for the design of workspaces, reshaping our attitude to what makes a good work environment?

There is no doubt that Covid-19 has had a significant and lasting impact on the working environment. It’s not just people’s work that’s changed, personal life has been completely turned upside down and this is true whether you work in an office or not, everyone is aware that life is different now. It has impacted every company worldwide and has certainly altered how we approach office spaces. Working from home caught many companies by surprise, actually boosting employee productivity and flexibility. That said, the signs that the isolation of home working is causing stress and anxiety for many employees are beginning to appear. Companies are realising that collaboration and interaction between colleagues is just as important as flexible and remote working to the wellbeing of employees. However, that doesn’t mean we are going to return to the offices of old, the workplace is still relevant in the future, it just looks very different. Rather than simply a place to carry out tasks - which can be easily achieved at home - the workplace will become a place of community. It will become a space where ‘digital nomads’ come together for collaboration, learning and innovation. Maybe we’ll see a hybrid approach between home and office, where the question becomes where is the best place to do the work right now? Employees and employers will have a choice. It will be possible to undertake or assign tasks to particular areas, whether that’s working from home, collaboration areas or quiet workplaces within the office.

Will we see a more segregated and individualised approach to space design? For example, a return to smaller team-based offices or even individual work areas and more physical partitioning within the same space?

As the pandemic continues it is teaching us that isolation and solitude are not beneficial to employee wellbeing or productivity and so I don’t think we’ll see segregated offices returning and certainly not a growth in even more segregated layouts. We will see a more hybrid setup where the home becomes an extension of the office and the office becomes an extension of your home.

How important will the selection of materials be? Do you expect to embrace a new wave of anti-bacterial finishes, or is it simply about making sure sanitisation is easily accessible?

The ability of materials to provide a sanitary surface will become important, yet they shouldn’t have a clinical touch. Rather, they should have a natural feeling and a material’s sustainability, such as recycled content, will still influence the specification.

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