Opinion: Covid-19 workplace density

Covid-19 is challenging the industry’s thoughts on density in the workplace, says William Poole-Wilson, managing director of Will + Partners

Words by William Poole-Wilson, managing director of Will + Partners

All MIPIM conferences resemble one another, but this year was different. While we all made an effort to meet when the 2020 international property event was initially postponed, it wasn’t the same – whether it was pounding the pavement up and down Park Lane or perhaps making the trip to Cannes anyway, the mood wasn’t quite right, although I imagine everyone is keeping quiet now…

At times, the grand social experiment of Covid-19 offers glimmers of a Brave New World, and a desire for community, identity and stability. What will emerge? Certainly, it is challenging our views of the city, but perhaps most of all it is challenging our industry's established view of density.

Social distancing and the 2m rule aren’t randomly made up – they are based on medical and health evidence. What is interesting is that it challenges how we have been looking at the office environment and aligns with emerging evidence that densities need to level out. If we accept that absenteeism has risen in the past 25 years and offices are more densely packed with people and workplaces, then we must rethink our approach.

Most of us have awesome video conferencing, and wonderful laptops or iPads.

Our builders are brilliant, our supply chains are strong, and we can keep them maintained and distanced. As the country comes to terms with what is a tough period, we are already building the resilience to recover, and thinking about our new design. For years we have asked our clients what it would be like if we all had to work from home. The ability for us to connect via homeworking in this virtual social experiment is now a reality. I doubt it will be the death of the office, but we do need to consider how we design so that we respect health and wellbeing in the office.

Density matters now more than ever, and not because we want to simply pack more in: it is about agile working, flexibility, the desk and homeworking, but most importantly it is about protecting our health. The office matters because we need best performance; design matters because it is our inspiration and imagination.

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