Flexibility in the workplace can be described as ‘the opportunity for workers to modify and adapt their schedules, workspaces and workplaces, according to their necessities, so they can be more productive and happy at work, reaching a good balance between work and personal life’.
When we talk about flexibility in the workplace, we can find:
Time flexibility: When workers can choose or modify the weekdays they work. This is, for instance, work fewer days, work part-time, or have a variable time of start and finish.
Location flexibility: When workers can work remotely. Thanks to the new technologies people can have calls and meetings when working outside the office. Also, workers can work from home 1 or 2 days of the week.
In response to the coronavirus crisis, many companies are asking to their staff to work from home for a couple of days (probably weeks), having the meetings online, using programs like Microsoft Teams, e-mail or Skype, maximizing the use of remote working and new technologies to stay connected.
Probably, due to the Covid-19 crisis, many companies have been forced to use this remote working strategy for more days per week than what they would normally do and, at the beginning, this may seem complicated, but is a good opportunity to test ways of using new technologies that will change the way we work in the future.
And, in part due to this situation, we’re going to see a before and after on the way we work, and, as designers, we have to be aware of what can we do to facilitate companies the use of remote working policies, including flexibility in our designs. Apart from the fact that we’ll make the spaces richer and more complex, improving worker’s comfort and productivity.
Some of the elements that we can include, as designers, are:
As designers, we can include a series of elements to improve flexibility at the workplace, like adding dynamism at the office with shared spaces, where people can have formal or informal meetings, spaces to share and discuss ideas, working in groups, and do some breakouts, so workers can share their ideas with others, improving their self-motivation, proactivity and well-being. Also, it’s important to combine those spaces in an open-plan office, mixing workstations with collaborative spaces, meeting rooms and break out areas.
Besides, a way to make the most use of the office space is using shared workstations. To have a hot-desking office means that the costs of the office space can be reduced, as all the people doesn’t have to be in the office at the same time. Moreover, the sense that the office is not just a cubicle, but the entire office improves the worker’s wellbeing and productivity. To achieve this, it’s required to have adequate personal storage system with individual lockers and shelves.
Also, the standard desks can be changed for tech-enabled desks where workers can plug-in and start working, anywhere, so they can always be connected. Moreover, adding variety to the way we organise the furniture, mixing communal tables with quiet pods, brainstorm islands, or sound-proof phone booths will transform the office space completely.
When it’s not possible to have three or four different types of spaces in the office, we can use a flexible design, creating a unique space that can be used as workstation, meeting room and leisure space, using mobile furniture, different modular units and changing the space. This idea is great for small offices that can’t afford much space.
Personally, I like this Eric Reinholdt’s design, Long Studio. A place where he works, makes models, has meetings with clients, paints and plays guitar with his sons. It’s a brilliant idea for a small office.
And the last one is the work from home trend. It’s impact on the office space, transport and lifestyle is changing our lives and it’s going to be our new normal in the next couple of months. Offices must be prepared to have their workers connected, using programs that facilitate remote working, online meetings and daily catchups to ensure all the employees have tasks to do and no one gets isolated.
We’re starting using these trends due to the new technologies, that allow us to be connected, and we will see this improving during the next couple of months. If these technologies are well used, united, connected and happier, improving our productivity, health and well-being.