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Future-fit office renovations

by Ofentse Sefolo
Future-fit office renovations

As we near the end of lockdown, with the country effectively at level one from 1 October 2020, many South Africans are once again resuming work from the office and as such, many business owners have to renovate or upgrade the office environment to be compliant with Covid-19 regulations.

For many organisations this is not an easy task. Where to begin, what is mandatory and what will the future needs be are just some quesitons they are grampling with.

We reached out to seasoned interior designer, Evette Annandale from Annandale Designs, who brings a 360-degree skillset, which includes residential, commercial, hospitality and retail design. Evette is passionate about finding creative solutions to commercial design challenges and has worked with the Interior Design Institute as an online educator to enrich learners around the globe.

Here’s Evette’s take on designing and redesigning workplace spaces, not just to be COVID compliant, but to be future fit.

Q: What goals should be achieved/set when renovating an office space?
A: To establish and set goals for your renovation, consider the kind of work your business does. Does it involve intense personal concentration? Peer review? Collaboration? Teamwork?

Goals should align with company values. It is not just about aesthetics. Renovating your office space can result in improved workflow, better utilisation of space, improved employee engagement, reduced employee turnover, an overall increase in the wellbeing of the inhabitants and sensible return on investment. Over and above, the look and feel should be recognisable. People should get a feel for who you are and what you represent the moment they set foot through the door.

Q: How do you see COVID and lockdown affecting office spaces in general?
A: In my experience, companies are taking stock of their floor space, weighing the cost and benefit of their areas. Designing spaces for what you imagine people might need instead of what they genuinely need results in empty pockets.

Human-centred design is at the core of a holistically successful office. My colleagues and I study not only human behaviour, but look at each organisation as a living organism that has structures and communication channels to consider and incorporate to promote productivity and engagement.

For many organisations, remote working has opened an avenue to change the way they invest in their office spaces. Serviced offices and co-working spaces are attractive options to reduce the square metres required to support staff and utilise a flexible and adaptable work environment.

Adaptable work environments also mean that we are reconsidering industry standards – taking into account the need for social distancing, touchless entry and sanitation, and incorporating management systems that can control the number of employees on a floor at any particular time.

The greatest lockdown teaching
Digital investment. Many companies who already had systems and processes in place, managed the transition from office work to remote work very well, and this includes sectors with call centres, making use of cloud-based applications and services.

Q: Many of us work from home. Any advice on creating an inspiring home office?
A: Here is the best advice ever: respect your spine! It is tempting to lounge on the couch with a laptop balanced on your knees all day. Let us keep front and centre that our health is paramount, and crucial for performing tasks optimally.

Also: get enough rest and sleep.

And consider the following:
• Invest in a really good quality chair if your job has you sitting down all day.
• Choose a spot with lots of natural light for both mood and productivity lifting. Bright light assists your natural circadian rhythms, which are crucial for a good night’s sleep.
• Adopt a plant! Plants are fantastic air cleaners and they connect us with the great outdoors. Our longing to connect with nature runs deep. Studies show that indoor plants – or a good view of the garden – improve our mood and our productivity.
• Position your workspace away from the bedroom as it is important to step away from the ‘office’ after a day’s work and relax elsewhere. It is a crucial disconnect that allows us to unwind and recharge for the next day.
• Do not work in bed! That is an order.

Q: Talking of plants – how else can we incorporate eco-conscious elements into the office space?
A: Shop local. You will find everything you need to furnish your space pretty much around the corner or in your area. Imported merchandise is pricey and it comes with a hefty carbon footprint. Do not be afraid to ask about the provenance of an item.

Companies like Italtile, that are committed to minimising their impact on the environment, will not only offer great eco-friendly products, they also ensure that manufacturing and route to market are thoughtful. This value is reflected in their environmentally friendly showrooms too.

Think about:
• Harness the power of nature. Natural light can save on electricity bills. Design so that closed spaces are closer to the core of the building; this way you do not obstruct the penetration of natural light.

• Insulate and regulate. Great “wodges” of the average energy bill go toward the cooling or heating of buildings. With proper insulation, the regulation of temperature is easier to maintain.

• Join a recycling scheme. Many companies in South Africa offer excellent services to organisations to take out the trash and they do so in a more environmentally friendly way.

• Do not use rat poison – Ever. Engage the services of local wildlife conservationists such as Owl Rescue Centre to install rat traps. This solves the rodent problem on-premises and feeds a few owls in the process.

Q: Which professionals should you engage with when designing an office reno? And for managing the different teams?
A: Every project has many moving parts and many teams collaborate to make it a success. The scope of the project will outline who you need to bring in with you.

For major structural renovations, you will need an architect. You may even require a structural engineer. For smaller interior work with minor structural changes, you will need a qualified interior architect or a qualified interior designer. My suggestion is that you also engage an experienced project manager: the one point of contact for all. Council submission is a must-have for many projects. Find a company to oversee this for you and reduce your headaches dramatically!

Q: How do you ensure your reno remains relevant and on trend for years to come?
A: Trends come and go. Fashion changes but the heart and soul of the organisation stays the same. A brand lives in the real world and people will interact not just with your employees and website, but also with your interiors. We take your company’s brand identity and translate and develop it into the built environment where we ensure that the elements portrayed and chosen to represent your brand will be able to withstand the changing tides of trends.

By undertaking a thorough process of gathering data, interacting with key people and researching the current market place, we gain a clear understanding of how to position a client’s interior in such a way that it is representative of the brand and not just a reflection of the most current trends. Part of the strategy will always be to incorporate the latest building techniques and to source the most viable materials for efficiency and cost-saving. This does not mean that you are bound to a style, a specific technique or only one material until the end of days!

If you invest in developing an interior design language and strategy, it can be executed for years to come, being adaptable to future building techniques and new materials that will come to market. The office can stay up to date without losing its signature look and feel. If the brand embodies its character, the interior design narrative will support that.

In conclusion, office spaces serve as a hub or tool for growth, collaboration and trust, and so they should be designed to support the employee both on and off site. An organisation is only as strong as the sum of its employees, and if employees are engaged, supported and inspired, they will succeed – and so will the company.

For more information visit: www.annandaledesign.com or https://www.italtile.co.za/about-italtile-commercial

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