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Well Worked

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As we begin the hopeful journey into a post pandemic era, and back into more recognisable working patterns, it is the time to reflect on the future of the workplace, our working environments and how the post pandemic approach may change the places we inhabit.

In this series of articles, SEW will explore the opportunities for the future workplace at a variety of scales. We will explore the role of the workplace in the creation of sustainable communities, and consider what it means to create a working environment that puts wellbeing at its core. These ideas are exemplified through our work on Plus X Brighton, which will soon become one of the few platinum-accredited WELL workplace buildings in the UK.

Preston Barracks Well Worked 01
Plus X Brighton within Preston Park by Studio Egret West
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Plus X Well Worked 04
Plus X Brighton Studio Egret West i
Plus X Brighton Studio Egret West 16

As urban designers, architects and landscape architects, we are keen to understand how the workplace itself can evolve, but also how changing work patterns can affect our approach to creating sustainable places. We want to reflect on the future of our workplaces to discover a ‘Well Worked’ solution that considers not only the workplace itself, but also how a shift in working lifestyles can fit into the places we design.

The traditional workplace is often a centralised hub, one that aimed to be as convenient and pleasant to work in as possible, but demanded that people and technology shared the same space. In the years just before the pandemic, we saw the gradual evolution of this concept, with the increasing popularity of subscription-based co-working spaces challenging the way we think of workplaces. Most recently, the sudden requirement to work remotely during the pandemic has shaken off the historic shackles of the location-led workplace, opening the door for more diverse arrangements.


Despite these positive developments, this enforced change of working patterns has also had many negative impacts, most notably on our collective mental health and wellbeing. Furthermore, the remote-working approach has proved a difficult environment for young people to learn in and for innovation borne out of chance conversations. It is certainly not a sustainable working lifestyle.

Our overarching interest is to contemplate what the ambitions of the future workplace might be. Should we fundamentally change the goal, so that we can retain some of the positives of a more flexible approach, and change the principles of what is valued by employers and employees? Can the traditional values of location and proximity be replaced with values around social, physical and mental wellbeing that - alongside the financial rewards of working - allow us to thrive?

Studio Egret West Future Workspace Isometric Diagram 1 The pre-pandemic home/workplace relationship: separate and distinct, often with long commutes between

Regenerative Working

For so many years it has been the accepted norm that we rise in the morning and head off to work, put in our hours and trundle home again – a repetitive pattern set by the industrial revolution which drove an unprecedented change in working patterns, leading to the mass movement of people to urban centres. Industries relied on expensive and centralised technology, meaning that we had to move closer to the machines for our work.

It is the current change in perspective that allows us to understand what this means for our lifestyles and how much it has shaped other parts of our lives. Large and forward-thinking businesses have tried to address the limitations of occupying the same building for 8 hours a day by bringing the crèches, cafés, bars, restaurants and recreational spaces closer to work, but is there a fundamental flaw at the heart of this approach? It is helpful to have all these available resources to create a better balanced workday, but it does not hide the hidden truth that being in a single spot all day is fundamentally unhealthy for us. How many in the UK work with an eye on the next holiday?

The pandemic has pushed us into the opposing situation, where remote-working has made location irrelevant. From a practical perspective, it has not been as painful as we might have expected – we have certainly found that the systems and frameworks to enable this were only a small step away.

With restrictions now lifted, we might ask ourselves: What will be the long-term impacts on the way we live and work? As we start to unpack our lives again, should we be putting things back where they were or should we take the opportunity to refresh our working patterns? On reflection, how sustainable was the work-life balance we had and how much was purely endured? Can we find a more supportive approach that adds diversity to our lives, and a greater focus on physical and mental wellbeing?

The pre-pandemic approach to achieving a positive work-life balance tried to bring a semblance of choice into the workplace, which was a positive step. It recognised that personal choice led to a happier life; you could choose to work at your desk or in a communal area, at the café or in the local park. All good additions to the previous desk-based approach, but maybe not equally accessible for all.

Studio Egret West Future Workspace Isometric Diagram 2 The mid-pandemic home/workplace relationship: suddenly blended together, challenging our traditional understandings of these spaces

The Future of Workplaces: Reflecting on the Covid pandemic

What happens if we apply this principle to our working day from the moment we rise rather than the moment we get to work? Giving a greater degree of individual choice back, trusting more and allowing both employer and employee to benefit from a flexible structure?

We know from our own practice that people want different things at different stages of life: from those who have just moved to London and are building new social networks, to the more settled who enjoy the studio location surrounded by food and culture, as well as parents who need to synchronise their working rhythms with family and childcare arrangements. There is certainly no one right answer.

Can the workplace of the future provide more nodes on the network, to better respond to our individual ‘web of life’, creating a greater overlap between our workplace, our social and cultural networks, and our support networks such as childcare and healthcare? Working-from-home has firmly opened the door to having multiple places of work - and therefore choice - about where we spend our working time. We can now work closer to our home network, something that has many benefits, such as allowing us to reappropriate the time spent commuting to other tasks, whether personal or work related.

Studio Egret West Future Workspace Isometric Diagram 3 Adapting to the pandemic: homes quickly became a condensed node for all sort of activities, ranging from education to exercise, work to play.

If we do have more workplaces, where should they be?

A central workplace, yes. There will no doubt always be a place for the working hub, one that offers the practical support structures and also a place for learning, for those new to working, or new to their job. Working-from-home can be part of the answer, but there is a lot of variation in the practicalities of this. Those lucky enough to have a spare room fare very differently from those in a house-share.

The high street can become the place for small, centralised working hubs that are connected to neighbourhood centres, which offer high-quality working environments closer to home.

This scenario could forge a new type of network where there is choice at every turn. Bringing workplaces into the neighbourhood will help the neighbourhood thrive, strengthen local economies and bring opportunities for independent, small scale businesses. If we allow greater autonomy, we can start choosing on a day-to-day basis whether we work from home, the high street or headquarters, depending on personal circumstances and the preferred balance of work and home life.

The larger office centres may become smaller, in that the floor space required by businesses will reduce. This does not necessarily lead to dwindling economic centres, but instead makes more room for green spaces or other active uses, creating attractive, higher-quality, diverse environments.

Studio Egret West Future Workspace Isometric Diagram 4 The workplace of the future: challenging the stereotypes of the past, and building on new symbiotic networks realised during the pandemic.

The Future of Workplaces

A multi-nodal future, one that offers choice to employees about where to work, means employers are going to have to work harder to attract people into a centralised workplace.

Each of the options of working-from-home, or working in local centres, neighbourhood offices or city centre flagships will ultimately each be in competition. Successful businesses will be those that offer the flexibility but retain sufficient centrality to maintain a strong identity and branding.

No more singular business parks – let's encourage integrated mixed-use hubs – homes, workspaces, businesses, leisure and green spaces, all operating in a harmonious symbiosis.

Coming Soon
The next issue of the Well Worked series will focus on the Neighbourhood, where Studio Egret West will reflect on our shifting working patterns and the decoupling of the home and the office.


Credits
Written by Cecilia Lindström and Lucas Lawrence
Title Graphics by
Sophie Cresswell
Illustrations by
Jarrell Goh

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