Opinion: Features that promote health and sanitation are now expected. That means touchless tech, automated cleaning systems, state-of-the-art air quality management, filtration and HVAC systems will be paramount for keeping people happy and comfortable

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Last month, KPMG LLP released the results of a Canadian workplace survey that showed that 77 per cent of respondents wanted the choice to work remotely once the pandemic subsides, while 63 per cent of employees polled indicated they intended to work in the office, at least some of the time.

KPMG’s survey also noted that, while roughly 67 per cent of respondents said they were satisfied with their current work-from-home setup, that number fell from 76 per cent of people who expressed satisfaction with remote working last summer.

The results of the survey reflect the findings last year by fast-growing business messenger service Slack, which published a global survey of 9,000 knowledge workers. One of the main takeaways was that 72 per cent of respondents said they would prefer a mix of remote and office work with their jobs.

During a recorded question-and-answer, Slack’s chief people officer Nadia Rawlinson said workers don’t want five days in the office, or long commutes in expensive cities, while being tied to in-person meetings.

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Both the KPMG and Slack findings hint at an underlying truth that shows a fundamental need of the employee, and a strategic mandate of the employer, for authentic human interaction. There is an important social context and a desire to see (on the part of the employer) and to be seen (on the part of the employee). Corporate culture has little chance to develop with work-from-home employees. What about the integration of new employees at all levels? This tenor, which forms much of the case for office space, will guarantee the longevity of certain types of workspaces. It will also suggest the demise of other antiquated models.

The pandemic has created a challenge for designers and builders of office space. Our office buildings need to give businesses and their workers exactly what they need to flourish as employees and organizations.

Office builders should prioritize amenities like rooftop patios, gardens, courtyards and other beautiful, tranquil outdoor spaces for escape, relaxation and collaboration. Having a connection to nature improves our state of mind. Our office buildings should invite in our local, natural beauty through intuitive design. That means designing spaces that celebrate our mountain views, seaside vistas and lake views for everyone on your team — not just for the executives.

Our sense of wellness, and how to achieve it, has never been more important. But wellness is generated differently for different people.

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For instance, cycling facilities that include gear space and lockers, showers and change rooms are now typical for office buildings. Activity spaces like gyms, yoga studios, relaxation rooms and social spaces that inspire collaboration and togetherness are becoming essential. What about the needs of working parents? Daycare availability can help elevate their careers.

Features that promote health and sanitation are now expected. That means touchless tech, automated cleaning systems, state-of-the-art air-quality management, filtration and HVAC systems will be paramount for keeping people happy and comfortable in the office.

Companies that are preparing for the “future of work” are no longer focusing on minimizing the average space per employee. If the point is to be happy and productive, then why not consider flexible spaces designed for various types of work on any given day? If the day will involve collaboration in a team setting, then a creative space commensurate with that should be available. If concentrated, quiet work is the order of the day, then a soundproof work environment is what is required.

Office designers, builders and occupiers need to be considering the purpose of work completed in the office. What must be done in the office and why? Our spaces should be shaped to those purposes.

Lastly, it would serve us well to design and treat our office buildings as true extensions of the neighbourhood. This is easier said than done, but selecting development sites in walkable, bikeable areas, well-connected to efficient transit and surrounding amenities and attractions will be a key strategy to attract workers out of their homes and into a heathy, interactive society.

Jonathan Friesen is CEO of Kelowna-based residential and commercial developer Mission Group.

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