The Last Word: Nathalie Baxter

April 1, 2021

Closing this month’s issue of North East Times, Nathalie Baxter, head of workplace at Home Group, looks at the key design elements our future workspaces are going to need to incorporate so that the wellbeing and productivity gains of working from home are not squandered as people return to the office.

Q: It’s going to take many different interventions to attract people back to the office post-pandemic. But if you could pursue just one game-changing strategy to make workspaces fit for the future, what would it be?

A: Shared workspaces of the future should act as collaborative tools to bring colleagues together in ways that remote working cannot. While digital platforms provide an efficient and sustainable means of communicating from afar, they do not allow us to establish and maintain relationships in the same way. Our future shared workplaces, therefore, should plug this gap to reinforce an organisation’s culture and ensure colleagues feel engaged, motivated and supported.

The intuitive, passive moments we experience when we’re in a shared workplace, such as chatting to a colleague in the coffee area, catching up as we cross paths or eating lunch together, are all important interactions.

A lot of our workplace relationships were already established pre-COVID-19, which is, in part, why we can work so efficiently remotely. Future workplaces should motivate colleagues to come together and form a sense of community while working towards a common purpose.

The game-changing strategy, therefore, is to change perceptions of what a workplace is; rather than thinking of ‘shared workspaces’ as ‘offices’, we should start considering them as community enablers for organisations to foster and live out their values.

Q:How can design be used to promote wellbeing, productivity and creativity in these future workspaces?

A: There are many well-established design mechanisms. They include biophilic design, to promote interaction with nature through natural light and materials; active design strategies to encourage physical movement while at work and; inclusive design strategies to establish wholly accessible spaces.

The importance of these design strategies has been reinforced throughout working from home as colleagues have naturally gravitated towards environments and activities that embody these design characteristics.

While working from home has been challenging, many of us have chosen to take a walk while on a call, work in a garden or eat lunch in an outdoor space, sit beside a window or look towards a view. These are all simple but effective ways of stimulating our senses to give us an enhanced sense of wellbeing and ultimately increase our productivity. Going forward, both our remote and shared future workspaces should seek to reinforce this.

Q: In your new role at Home Group, you’ve been charged with helping the company adapt to the ‘new normal’ office environment. What does this new environment look like?

A: We aren’t going ‘back to the office’ because it no longer serves the same function, we’re going forwards to future ways of working, which will liberate us to use the workplace in a much more dynamic, flexible and agile way.

We will use the lessons learnt from working from home to provide an optimum hybrid workplace solution in which the benefits of flexible remote working are blended with the cultural and collaborative benefits of attending a shared workplace.

To deliver this level of flexibility requires a rigorous analysis of all our working tasks, systems and processes, alongside their physical and digital compatibilities. This analysis will help us to scope out our future network of activities to which we will tailor our design responses at One Strawberry Lane and roll out across the UK.

We know our future environment is not a static workplace. It is an active, transient and progressive space, which may look very different from one day to the next to respond to the various tasks we need to undertake and customers we serve.

Nathalie Baxter

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