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Why flexible workplaces are here to stay

Workplace By Marc Lynch, Associate, Building Services – 07 December 2021

Two employees having a fun conversation in the Cundall office

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Marc Lynch in Cundall Dubai office

Marc Lynch

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As 2022 fast approaches, dare I say it, here in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) we appear to have turned a corner in the pandemic recovery. The government was quick to implement key countermeasures which included a strict lockdown, compulsory mask-wearing in public spaces, easy access to testing, and a rapid mass vaccination programme. As a result, a decrease in COVID cases has allowed life to return to near business as usual. The Dubai Expo and other large public events are now in full swing and the majority of people have now returned to the office on a full or part-time basis.

The pandemic has posed many challenges that have led us to rethink conventional best practice design standards for workplaces. Flexibility and adaptability for remote working was critical for organisations to maintain business continuity during the early stages of the pandemic. A recent survey carried out by the BBC entitled “Most people do not expect full-time office return” suggests a shift in public opinion in favour of working remotely on a more frequent basis. This sentiment is echoed in another study by ArabianBusiness.com which found that “over half of UAE employees prefer working from home”. There are many more articles and surveys that support a growing demand for greater flexibility at the workplace and a need for improved work/life balance. At Cundall, we are also seeing clients paying more attention to the benefits of staff wellness and its links to greater productivity. Considering all the above raises an important question about what the future workplace should look and feel like.

During a recent CoreNet Global Corporate Real Estate event, my first in-person conference since the pandemic, it became clear that accommodating staff preferences in the office environment is leading to a change in how we view the office space. Offices must become more agile and flexible with multi-purpose spaces for client-facing meetings as well as team collaboration areas for fast deliverable programmes that demand high levels of face-to-face engagement. A recent productivity GAP analysis study from Harvard Business Review suggested that productivity is improved in businesses that allow hybrid work measures, and companies are promoting flexibility as an effective recruitment strategy to entice fresh talent.

The growing demand for flexibility will continue to be a key driver in rethinking the change required and will undoubtedly reshape how we view the workspace going forward. The office space will remain key to a company’s success, offering employees a sense of community and opportunity to naturally engage with their teams. However, there will also be a strong requirement for improved wellness measures.

Leading by example, Cundall’s MENA offices are designed to meet the WELL Gold Building Standard, promoting health, wellbeing, and productivity. The key areas of focus to achieve the WELL certification include optimising the design of the following building services systems:

  • Indoor air quality (IAQ) – Strategies include the removal of airborne contaminants, pollution prevention, and air purification.
  • Water quality – Strategies include filtration and treatment as well as strategic placement for improved water access in buildings.
  • Lighting – Design strategies include implementing task appropriate illumination levels with a focus on the correct intensity of illuminance, colour temperature, and glare reduction measures to avoid discomfort and enhance the body’s natural circadian rhythm.

The above, along with several best practice behavioural improvements such as nourishment, fitness, comfort, and mind, contribute towards the overall improvement to the workplace creating an indoor environment that minimises distractions whilst encouraging productivity.

The pandemic has forced us to take a closer look at our working environment and the things that we previously took for granted, prompting action towards improving building performance. This is resulting in the creation of healthier, more productive workspaces. The lessons we have learnt from this pandemic will continue to shape the way we design and occupy buildings in the future. At Cundall, we specialise in health and wellbeing in the built environment, taking a safety-first approach to buildings and workspaces. We highlight areas for improvement and suggest the strategies required to ensure the indoor environment is operating at its optimum potential.

References

Business reporters, BBC News, 16 September 2021

Business news, Arabian Business, 13 April 2021

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