Refresh the Office to Beat the Covid Blues
Lisa Piley, commercial colour consultant at AkzoNobel subsidiary, Dulux Trade, explains why redecorating the office can help improve the wellbeing of returning staff.
Offices were once somewhere many of us spent the majority of our time.
But since March 2020, most have stood empty as countries around the world have embarked on the great work-from-home experiment. And by and large that’s been a success, exceeding the expectations of employers and staff alike.
Now though, as city centres suffer the effects of dramatically reduced footfall, calls are growing for offices to welcome back the workforce once more.
However, what’s clear is that there won’t be a swift return to business-as-usual. Offices will have to be adapted to allow for social distancing and further measures to combat virus-spread.
So, how will adopting Covid-friendly design schemes reshape our working environments? And how far will they go in providing the reassurance many need that these spaces are safe?
This is where expert use of colour and an occupant-centred focus can help. So we’ll see a new visual language being adopted in offices through the use of colour-blocking and building colour into a business’ code of conduct.
This will be used to indicate areas that have specific functions within the office. For example in blue zones you could be required to keep your distance from others. Areas of pink could be where teams can safely congregate, while green zones could be spaces for quiet solo reflection. This can also subtly help change habits through association - avoiding the necessity of ugly warning signage.
In tandem with this, floor design will take on significantly greater importance in order to aid a safe flow of staff through these spaces. Block flooring is likely to become an integral design feature as it helps avoid the unsightly and unsatisfactory use of directional stickers and tape, while at the same time mirroring the colour-zoning of areas.
Block flooring design like this may become a true benefit to refurbishment and can play its part in zoning areas by colour differences that work directly with the corporate image or interior paint scheme of an office.
Equally, using carpet tiles over roll flooring will aid flexibility and is a cheap and relatively simple means of re-configuring a space.
Texture will also play a part - the transition from a hard to soft surface can indicate a change in function for the area you are moving into.
At the same time the role of the outside world in interiors will increase, with the adoption of more elements of biophilic design. At its core is the principle that humans are innately attracted to nature, natural materials and colours. In simple terms, that will mean more plants becoming a feature of office life.
It will also see desks repositioned. So, out go islands and pods where colleagues face each other.
Instead we will see colleagues seated increasingly side-by-side. It still allows for essential social contact, but avoids direct face-to-face interaction.
And in order to further reinforce these biophilic principles, desks will face a different direction too - looking out onto windows. It will also serve to remind many of the benefits of working in the garden during lockdown. At the same time, clever colour use can provide the illusion of walls melting away and beckoning the outside in, fostering a greater sense of well-being for users of a space.
Offices will also increasingly come to be not solely defined by what goes on within their four walls. Outside spaces will become significantly more important as they are adapted and reconfigured for working and reflecting, socialising and eating your lunch.
You may no longer host clients in a meeting room - these could now take place in a car park that’s been transformed. Exterior paints can easily be used to repurpose an unused outbuilding, or perhaps an old gazebo can be given a new lease of life.
For those businesses without access to outside space you might find balconies taking on new functions. With the addition of heaters for colder months they can become healthy meeting spaces.
Convincing staff that it’s safe to return to the office is one of the biggest challenges employers now face.
Refreshing the workplace provides the clearest signal that their welfare is a top priority.
For inspiration, visit www.duluxtrade.co.uk.