As we look towards 2021, we can only hope for a more stable year ahead, one where workers in offices can continue to work safely and socially distanced. We may have to continue alternating between working from home and office days, judging the climate of the pandemic as we go. For those office days, we need to make sure we are following updated, safe policies in line with social distancing and even better hygiene. But how can the workspace be updated? One way that workspaces can be enhanced for next year is by making room for a more collaborative office space, but how can you do this exactly?
What does a collaborative office space look like?
There are a few ways to interpret this, but overall, it’s about making sure teams can work together easily and efficiently to achieve company goals through a more dynamic office space.
Another way to make a collaborative workspace is by allowing employees from different offices and companies to work under one roof, in one shared workspace. Whether you have a small start-up or a renowned, global enterprise, a collaborative space provides opportunities for your staff to integrate with other groups on shared floors, using shared amenities as well as allowing more flexibility for staff throughout the day.
Considering around 75% of workers regarded teamwork and collaboration as important, it’s a great idea to make sure your office space works around this.
This means providing a layout that encourages teamwork and helps people work more productively and in cooperation, all while social distancing is maintained. If social distance is too difficult to achieve in certain areas, make sure you’re requiring that staff wear masks, or that you have a physical barrier such as a protective screen.
- Sit-stand desks allow employees to move around more, which improves circulation
- Swivel chairs mean workers can easily move around, especially if they need to look at something on another office desk
- Avoid back-to-back layouts, and have as many people facing one another with good, safe distancing
- Collaborative working is all about comfort – go for multifunctional furniture and beanbags to encourage more socialising (safely distanced, of course)
- Brainstorming areas – provide working walls so employees can add to notice boards and whiteboards, sharing ideas etc.
- Make sure project collaboration software and communication channels are up to date so that teams can work together more efficiently, even when working from home
A communal space is key to collaborative work and there are a number of ways you can help set this up for your office:
- Circular layouts with comfy office sofas give a more communal vibe, as they encourage team members to group together in a relaxed setting to share thoughts
- Connect teams by having open-plan spaces where things are not too closed off
- You can get glass cell pods to separate people whilst not keeping them totally shut off
- Bring more breakout areas into the workspace by providing benches, relaxed office rooms and coffee tables
- You could make areas a bit cosier for staff to take a break in or for some timeouts to think creatively
- Opt for more transparent walls and separators in the office like glass screens and biophilic features to create divided spaces that aren’t too segregating
Coffee place feel
Create a more collaborative feel by offering amenities and coffee stations. Starbucks does an interesting business program or you could simply design an office that is styled more like a coffee shop, where staff could plug in laptops at coffee tables on comfier chairs with nearby coffee machines. The more open the better, and who doesn’t love working from a coffee shop?
Making an office safe with social distancing
Of course, with more collaborative designs and encouragement for team building, it’s important you maintain effective social distancing wherever possible. If this proves too difficult in certain areas, make sure employees are wearing masks. If you have implemented clear COVID-19 policies that require staff to follow best hygiene practices and social distancing, along with signs and guides within the office, you can create safer office spaces. Whatever sector or industry you’re in, see how you can implement effective social distancing in the workplace.
In 2018, it was reported that the majority of UK office workers, around 81% in fact, spent between four and nine hours sitting at their desk each day. Of those surveyed, 64% claimed their office environment was having a negative impact on their physical health.
That’s a lot of hours racked up in a sedentary position. And when health experts in recent times have attributed prolonged sitting to increased risk of cardiometabolic diseases and premature mortality, it’s vital that we improve our office set-ups, yet it’s something that we often overlook.
The effect of a poor office set-up on office workers
The common conditions associated with a poor office environment relate to poor posture, backaches, repetitive strain injury (RSI), headaches, and obesity, but the list doesn’t end there.
For instance, poor office lighting, brightness and screen glares can have a considerable impact on workers, causing fatigue and discomfort, as the body has to adapt to the contrasting ambience. So not only is your body impacted, but your mind is, too.
One of the biggest contributing factors to a poor office set-up is a deficient office chair and defective workstation. Poorly fitted office furniture has been known to increase the chances of workers developing musculoskeletal disorders. How often do you find yourself slumped over at your desk, hunched over your keyboard, or slouched halfway out of your chair? But when you’re sitting there for almost eight hours a day, it’s difficult not to end up in these positions.
The relation of office set-ups to RSI
Another important factor impacting physical health is the set-up of a desk and its link to RSI. The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy reported that nearly half a million of UK workers suffered from upper limb RSI, and RSI.org reported that 1 in 50 of all UK workers had reported a condition of RSI.
Prolonged and repetitive movements – that may be forceful or awkward – can cause RSI, resulting in damage to tendons, muscles and nerves, which can cause weakness, numbness, pain and an impairment to motor control. And since UK office workers spend a considerable amount of time sitting, moving mice, and typing on a daily basis, the figures aren’t surprising but are very worrying.
The effect of a bad office space on mental health
It’s not just our bodies that suffer. Office workers can also suffer from fatigue and poor mental health from bad workplace arrangements, and it’s only recently that a light has started to shine on these areas. If you don’t provide a healthy office space, workers can become more tired, sluggish, demotivated, which all has a lasting and negative effect on their overall mental health, not to mention productivity.
Juachi Ezenwa, founder of Journey with Ju, says most people overlook their mental health:
“Making your workspace more ergonomic goes beyond the physical impacts such as your comfort level, positioning of your body, etc. It also applies to the impact your workspace can have on your mental/psychological well being. People often overlook this and focus solely on the physical aspects. There are psychosocial factors (non-physical) such as high workload/ work pressure, lack of emotional/social support, that can lead to such as fatigue, stress and burnout.”
So, what does a good office set-up look like?
One person who can answer this question is Nick Pollitt, MD here at DBI Furniture Solutions, as he’s helped to transform many poor workplaces into ones that (quite literally) support their staff.
Pollitt stresses the importance of high-quality and ergonomic office furniture and office desks, both for better physical health and productivity. He says “it’s crucial you get adjustable and ergonomic office chairs so workers can set them to their individual needs, as well as making sure there is enough tailored leg room and back support. This means posture is improved significantly and that circulation is healthier.”
Guidance from a panel of experts, commissioned by Public Health England recommends office workers break up prolonged sitting by standing, or taking short active breaks for at least two hours during working hours, and encourages the use of sit-stand desks. We value these so much because of the incredible health benefits they provide.
Jörg Bakschas, an independent workspace specialist from Adapt Global Group also praises sit-stand desks: “Sit-stand desks are fantastic, but most people overlook them. You’ll find many workers that have a sit-stand desk will still sit all the time! It’s crucial that you use these to break up prolonged sitting and that you take regular breaks to increase circulation and movement.”
Pollitt also recognises the importance of helping prevent RSI, eye strain and headaches in the workplace with the use of adjustable monitor arms and stands. He notes “one of the key parts to making sure you are sat at your desk correctly is positioning yourself and office equipment at the right levels and making sure monitors meet your eye level with the brightness low and no glare.”
Bakschas echoes this: “Monitors need to be adjusted so that they are an arm’s length away. You can also use a second monitor to get a better overview of documents you’re working on as well as windows.”
For office workers, we spend years of our lives sitting down at our desks, clicking, typing and staring at screens, so we mustn’t overlook the impact this can have on our overall health, and the interventions we can put in place to significantly improve it. With all the statistics and guidance at hand on what years of sedentary behaviour and a poor office set-up can do to us, we’ll certainly think twice about our posture and workstation arrangements to make sure we don’t end up with poor health like Person A down the line! Scary stuff, right?