2021: Time to create workspaces which tempt us back for good

05 January 2021

I think it’s fair to say that for most of us the new year has not started with a great deal of fanfare.

The double challenges of an ongoing, devastating pandemic and the fraught final days of the Brexit process have certainly knocked us all about in one way or another and, now we find ourselves in another lockdown, the greeting ‘Happy New Year’ seems to ring ever more hollow.

But wallowing in all this will do us no good and, here at Urban Planters, we are keeping our eyes fixed firmly on the horizon, where, hopefully soon, the world will gain control of the spread of Covid-19, and mass vaccination will allow us to emerge from our homes again.

It will be heartening not only to reunite properly with friends and family, but also to see industries start to revive and even thrive again. Here in the office plant and landscaping business, we have been diligently caring for plants in workplaces temporarily empty of employees and it can feel quite eerie without the usual buzz of productivity and co-working all around.

While working from home can offer a range of advantages, from non-existent commutes to more time with the family, many of us have come to realise that there is no substitute for in-person collaboration and workplace support.

Even the aforementioned commute can, once missed, become recast as a handy time to decompress, or catch up on reading or podcasts. And while time with family is precious, it is also important to have a part of our lives that is independent of our loved ones, and the office can play a part in that.

In the background, employers are busy preparing workplaces to ensure that workers feel Covid-safe and therefore happy to come back to the office, but while 2-metre distance markers, sanitizing stations and Perspex screens may be necessary in places, a longer-term vision is needed for a workplace which continues attract workers back now they could, in theory, carry out much of their daily tasks without stepping out of their own front door.

The secret to coaxing back employees to the office seems to be to recognise and foster the elements of working best carried out in the workplace.

In a recent study by facilities management company JLL, some 70% of respondents stated that they would favour a hybrid workplace/ homeworking model in future. So, the office still plays a role in our vision of an ideal working life, but for specific functions. Time working from home seems to have made employees appreciate that there are some tasks which are simply better performed in the office.

In fact, the study found that, while many found home working offered a range of benefits, they also still believed that the office offered certain advantages over home working in certain specific areas. Managing and being managed, collaborating and running meetings, solving work-related issues, socialising and learning and growing were all considered better carried out in the office by the majority of respondents.

A welcoming workplace

A running theme throughout JLL’s findings was the general shift towards prioritising wellbeing and work-life balance. These nurturing elements have been buzzwords for years but this year has forced many of us to look squarely at our working lives and see what elements of it allow us to thrive, and what really doesn’t. It seems that we have realised that some of the more nurturing elements of home working might be carried over to the office.

A flexible working week and reduced working hours were among the most popular changes respondents wanted to their working lives. However, there was also a range of in-house services geared towards wellbeing in the workplace which had an appeal, including health, wellbeing and sports services were desirable.

What’s more, as the office is becoming increasingly appreciated as the best place to collaborate, learn and meet coworkers, the study looked at elements of the ideal office which could encourage these productive activities.

Spaces for socialization, focus work, creativity and learning and development spaces were all cited as elements which would boost employee experience in the office. Among the most popular elements, however, was spaces ‘connected with nature’, for example, outdoor spaces, gardens and plants.

In the world of office plants, we have long known that the most important thing to get right with any workplace, be it a home office or a sprawling open plan HQ, is creating a sense of wellbeing.

People simply work better if their surroundings nurture them in some way. Indoor plants offer a vital element of this: biophilia, or, put more simply, a reconnection with nature. This vital link to the natural world has been proven time and again to boost our productivity, reduce stress and generally promote a sense of wellbeing.

What’s more, on a less obvious, but nonetheless important, level, live plants are busily working away in the background to clean our air of toxins and boost oxygen and humidity levels.

Employees may be rushing back to the office once they are allowed, or they may be reluctant to return. For the latter, creating a welcoming, healthy space for them may make all the difference.