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Wood and wellness: The return to the office

As lockdown restrictions start to lift across the UK, entertainment, hospitality, public and office spaces are beginning to open their doors again. Last year, around 40% of UK workers worked from home in some capacity, and despite trends predicting that some work can be done remotely, there is still a desire for some aspects of work to be done in person.

But in a post-lockdown world, what will our workplaces look and feel like? What aspects are going to be most important when it comes to designing and creating a space where workers can collaborate safely?

Is the office dead?

In its report, The Future of work after COVID-19, the McKinsey Global Institute found that whilst remote work has been adopted by a significant number of workers, there are some types of work that technically could be done remotely but are best done in person. Examples of this include: “Negotiations, critical business decisions, brainstorming sessions, providing sensitive feedback, and onboarding new employees.”

A focus on blended or flexible working in 2021 is one of the top trends predicted for employers. A recent survey found that only 8% of employees wanted to continue working from home or remotely for five days a week. The office is still very much alive and a communal area for catching up with colleagues and space to brainstorm and work distraction-free is desired by workers.

Employers should consider, however, the flexibility of their space and whether it can be adjusted and deconstructed to create alternative layouts. A new flexible workspace at 6 Orsman Road has been designed with this in mind. Featuring a demountable partition system, it can be altered and reconfigured to the needs of occupants. 

Wellbeing comes out top in design trends

Isolation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has brought with it a nationwide mental health crisis.  Consequently, wellbeing is at the top of the agenda for many employers when rethinking and redesigning their office spaces post-Covid-19. This could be achieved through considerations such as blended or flexible hours, spaces that encourage connection with colleagues, or providing a comforting, calming environment to work in.

In addition to creating a welcoming space for workers to return to, hygiene and air quality will be of the upmost importance in making workers feel safe. From sanitising stations, regular cleaning to temperature checks, offices around the world are all taking different measures when it comes to providing a clean environment. In addition to opening windows, air quality could be enhanced in an office space with greater ventilation, more plants and better material selection. Natural materials such as wood can be used in products to help regulate humidity, providing better indoor air quality.

From case study: Fforest lodge

Biophilic principles can bolster healthy spaces

Research around biophilic design and connection to nature has long attested the fact that natural materials and natural scenery in a room can have a positive impact on its occupants.

Biophilia is the link between humans and nature and is about bringing natural elements indoors. Biophilic design incorporates natural elements, views and materials in design.

Rooms containing wood products have been shown to reduce stress and heartrates of occupants. With a large number of workers reporting problems with their mental health, and 65% of workers in the UK reporting to be anxious about returning to work in an office, any changes that can help ease stress and promote a sense of calm could have a really positive impact.

Stora Enso recently released a whitepaper which evidences the different affects that using wood can have on building occupants. From flooring to desks, walls to countertops, it shows that exposure to wooden products of all shapes and sizes can improve focus, reduce stress, bolster creativity and even encourage more social interaction.

Two birds with one stone

In 2020 there was a real push towards a green recovery and climate change is still a critical focus for many in 2021. The public is more aware of its personal contribution, and companies are stepping up to the challenge by creating more sustainable and eco-friendly office spaces.

Small changes like banning disposable water cups and straws, introducing recycling bins, turning off lights or cutting down on paper use can all help to reduce the operational carbon footprint of an office space. But considered, sustainable practices in the building of a new office and its interiors will make a huge difference in the embodied carbon footprint of the space.

You can learn about the difference between embodied and operational carbon in our guide 

As trees grow they sequester and store CO2 from the atmosphere as carbon. Every time you choose a wood product, you are helping to reduce CO2 emissions through the carbon stored in that product, through the replanting of trees, and because that product has been chosen over alternative, CO2-intensive resources. Not only could a natural material like wood help to promote health and wellbeing for workers, it could also help reduce the carbon footprint of your organisation and promote sustainable practices.

For more advice

For more advice or inspiration, take a look at some of these great case studies that embrace biophilic design:

Alternatively, you can find out more information about the low-carbon and sustainable benefits of using wood through our Wood CO2ts less campaign, and more about the health and wellbeing benefits of wood in our Why Choose Wood section.

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