HOT TOPIC: Is the humble pub the office of the future?

By Chris Cummings, Technical Director at chapmanbdsp.

In the past few weeks, I have been to birthday parties, leaving drinks a pub quiz and even a funeral.

Well, obviously I haven’t. This great social distancing experiment limits my human contact to the window-paned existence of the zoom post-work drinks, where raising a glass to the screen for any occasion can sometimes be a hollow experience.

The remote working revolution that has occurred under lockdown has been astonishing. Technology aside, companies that previously had only dabbled in allowing staff to work from home have had to make enormous cultural leaps. This period has absolutely shown that we can complete tasks and deliver projects from nearly 200 workplaces as efficiently as we could under a single roof.

Whilst we celebrate successfully transitioning our teamwork to the virtual space, we should be mindful that it is the very fact that we have transitioned teams, rather than created new ones, that is behind much of that success.

We are using the virtual space to continue relationships that were established by physically being brought together in an office or networking environment and fostered over many years working and socialising together. The people I talked to most back in the real world are the ones I talk to most in the virtual one.

The face-to-face time we get through the online cocktails and coffees is hugely valuable and proven to be much more psychologically beneficial than phone or text interactions. Much of what we take from these interactions though is from seeing familiar faces and reminding ourselves that we are all in it together.

Many of the wellbeing features we bring to office design replicate the domestic environment. I doubt many of us are working in deep-plan home offices without daylight, an openable window or a few plants. The biophilia is evident in each video conference as we have come to meet everyone’s household pets and, in my case certainly, the occasional errant toddler whose only words are “woof” and “football”.

We also have access to our own choice of music, a sofa to retire to, a fully stock(pile)d fridge and even somewhere to lie down if it all gets too much. Mostly we are warm, comfortable and have no commuting; even our local air quality has massively improved as a result.

So, what will we need offices for in this brave new world? What role will they play in our working lives now that we have established such efficiency in their absence?

Our typical brief for a new office is to provide a large place to work that incorporates smaller places to collaborate, with smaller still spaces to socialise. This hierarchy may well reverse entirely. Should we now be designing spaces that are first and foremost about collaboration and social interaction, knowing that the actual “work” can be done from anywhere?

Will the much lauded “in-between spaces” be brought front and centre? In turn, could we see new homes incorporate more room to work, reviving that revolutionary idea that was lost with the Code for Sustainable Homes?

Essentially, we will need a space where we can stand together in large groups and hear stories, huddle round tables in conversation or retreat to comfortable seats for one-to-ones or quiet, focussed, time alone. We will want refreshments provided with a side order of social interaction, chance encounters with friends old and new. Perhaps a dog. Pork scratchings?

I’m aware I am overly eulogising from my isolation, and I will continue to embrace the virtual pint and video cuppa, but I for one am looking forward to not just returning our work family to their home but to creating new ones built around our innate need to come together as a species.

In the meantime, I will savour the home comforts, and raise the occasional glass to a webcam. Cheers, everyone.

Christopher Cummings is Technical Director responsible for all aspects of Environmental and Sustainable design at chapmanbdsp.

HOT TOPIC: Is the humble pub the office of the future?