The communal workplace offers unrivalled opportunities for productivity, creativity and enjoyment, says Alan Bainbridge, the BBC’s director of real estate
POSITIVE THINKING SERIES
We are living in a time when the very existence and requirement for offices is being called into question. This level of scrutiny, which I think is short-sighted and a knee-jerk reaction, would have been unthinkable just a few months ago.
Over the past month the BBC has returned to more of its estate across the UK, working with our designers ID:SR Sheppard Robson and facilities management teams including Interserve to ensure they are places that people are keen to come to, places that feel safe and that help people to produce their best work
We have tackled the issue by rethinking the journey that our staff go on when using our buildings nearly every step of the way. This includes clear signposting to introduce new ways of moving around the building as well as ways to avoid gatherings in the buildings by changing catering options to “grab and go” and other places where queueing naturally occurs.
This level of detail is complemented by an internal masterplan, remapping routes through buildings to create a new office experience. By focusing on people, and what will keep them safe and productive rather than buying in expensive products, we are well placed to adapt our plan to respond to inevitable short-term fluctuations and long-term changes in behaviour.
Working from home tends to be quite linear while the physical office is wonderfully discursive, enabling and conducive to chance interactions
Because we are working with an estate of around 30 buildings, this process of creating a series of principles also allows us to discover what works best and to scale this up to quickly effect change.
For me, the process of reinstating the office has just reinforced how vital these workplaces are to our lives. People will still gravitate towards the office for many reasons, not least for the type of work that offices encourage.
Working from home tends to be quite linear while the physical office is wonderfully discursive, enabling and conducive to chance interactions. When there is more of a wholesale return, I anticipate that the workplace professionals will look at prioritising these creative collisions, establishing social spaces as the lynchpin of an interactive office experience.
We are hearing a lot of positive stories about working from home and it has gone well for a lot of us. But there are many people working in stressful, cramped conditions at home that you do not hear from.
The modern office is a great leveller in comparison; everyone has a similar amount of space, the same seat to sit on, similar facilities and technology. Given time, I think people will return to the office with a new appreciation of its democratic characteristics.
Another reason why the office cannot be easily dispensed with is that it is not “open” or “closed”—neither is a singular thing that can simply be dismissed. Good workplaces are constantly alive and elastic.
A good workplace, with the right team caring for it, should be able to adapt to the changes brought about by the pandemic
They are built from spaces that need careful calibration and environments that are constantly responding to new factors—whether it be technology, lifestyles or public health concerns.
Put simply, a good workplace, with the right team caring for it, should be able to adapt to the changes brought about by the pandemic. Conversely, a poorly thought-out office in the post-covid world will be exposed as a less productive and less safe alternative to working from home.