From home-like touches to acoustic pods: How the office is changing

Creating a safe environment for returning workers is driving trends in office makeovers

“Resimercial” layouts, acoustic pods and modular phone booths: these are just three of the new design twists coming to a workplace near you as employees return to offices reconfigured for the post-pandemic era.

That said, opinion is still sharply divided between those who want to go back and those who don’t. Savvy employers have recognised that prising employees away from the comforts of working from home may take some doing. This is why some are going all out to tempt returnees with perks such as cash bonuses, free lunches and resimerical office makeovers.

Resimerical, an amalgam of residential and commercial, is meant to create a more home-like atmosphere at work. Those in favour say it’s about more than plonking a sofa and a pot plant in a corner. It’s to do with creating an appealing working environment (think warm wooden floors and tasteful splashes of colour) that encourages employees to feel positive about being there. In so doing, it supposedly boosts wellbeing and productivity.

Also popping up in post-pandemic office design are acoustic pods and modular phone booths. Neither are new per se. What is new is their wide-scale adoption to meet the requirements of social distancing and safe working spaces.

For those unfamiliar with the concepts, an acoustic pod is a room within a room where someone can go for privacy or “do not disturb” time, while modular phone booths provide a quiet space for telephone and video calls.

Both typically come with sound proofing, ventilation, a desk, a doodling board and a motion sensor to activate the lighting and air con.

Budget considerations

Office refits can be as fancy as money allows but it's not unusual for large organisations to have spent €150,000 or more on a Covid revamp. SMEs with more modest budgets can still make positive changes with as little as €5,000 says Michelle Leyden, commercial director at Bizquip, an Irish-owned office interiors, equipment and workflow solutions company.

“We have a CAD [computer aided design] specialist working with companies to show them what’s possible within their space and budget. And it’s definitely not about replacing everything as sustainability is really coming to the fore in office interiors,” says Leyden.

“Overall, we are seeing a demand for personal storage spaces, agile furniture such as folding tables and tables on castors so they can be moved easily to accommodate a mix of business needs such as town hall meetings, scrum meetings and break-time seating.

“Organisations are also creating distinct work zones for focused or individual quiet work, more collaborative spaces with desks being replaced by informal seating, clear break-out places for informal chats or having a coffee, areas dedicated to client or external meetings and technology-enabled rooms with excellent acoustics.

"These different zones are known as 'neighbourhoods'. Some organisations were already going this way before the pandemic. Over the last few years, we've worked on major refits for Deloitte and Airbnb, for example, but it's happening on a much larger scale now.

“Encouraging people back to the office is one thing, “ Leyden adds. “But with a tight labour market, retaining them becomes even more important, and the office environment has its part to play because working in a nice space creates an important feelgood factor.”

Family business

Michelle is one of three family members working in Bizquip, which was started almost 40 years ago by her father, Jim. Her younger brother James runs the company’s technology division and he says the use of smart sensors can be really useful in determining real-time occupancy as companies get to grips with new office layouts.

“When it comes to future decisions around real estate and lease renewals, sensor data can help companies make informed decisions about whether to downsize,” he says. “We are currently working with a company monitoring their breakout spaces to see if they are actually being used or whether they might repurpose them. This decision will be easier to make because it will be data driven and 100 per cent accurate.”

Having a successor is often a challenge for a family business and Jim Leyden considers himself fortunate that two of his children have now joined him, having had their own careers first.

“Bizquip is actually older than my kids and when you’ve put so much in, you hope the next generation will want to become involved. I’m very pleased they have come on board and our structure is such that they can have their own distinct areas of responsibility,” he says.

“Having younger heads has been really beneficial during the pandemic as, like a lot of other companies, we had to reinvent ourselves, and they have fresh ideas,” says Jim.

“My priority throughout Covid has been to protect jobs – we employ 50 people, many of them with long service – and the families dependent on those jobs.

“When the first lockdown came, suddenly we had no one to sell to so we had to change fast to support the shift to mass home working. We also had to start sourcing products our customers needed, such as sanitisers and PPE.

“We were in the fortunate position of having upgraded our IT infrastructure before Covid so it was a seamless move for our people to work from home. During the 38 years of Bizquip, we have weathered numerous recessions and a major economic crash, but Covid has been the most significant as it has fundamentally changed the world of work.”