29 January 2021/ rent_office_guide

Wellness in the office: Key trends for 2021

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In the space of a year, the typical office environment has changed completely. It’s been stressful for many employees, as they’ve had to adapt to working from home without the social stimulation and change of scenery the office provides. As a result, employers have had to make mental health and wellness a priority to keep their workforces happy, healthy and productive.

We’ve been looking at some of the key office wellness trends for 2021, both for the home office and traditional office space. Here are five of the most important.

1. Protecting employees’ mental health

In the past, ‘wellness at work’ likely conjured up images of cutting-edge offices, kitted out with nap pods, yoga studios and puppy pens. Now, the concept is being embraced as a vital part of any employer’s employee welfare strategy.

According to bupa, 60% of UK employees said their mental health has worsened since the onset of the Covid-19 crisis. However, 67% of those surveyed also said their employers had been more supportive, whether that meant checking in more regularly or allowing them to access mental health support through work.

It will be vital that office-based businesses do their best to combat the mental strain of both the pandemic and working from home. This could mean encouraging employees to take sick days for both physical and mental health reasons, and implementing an Employee Assistance Programme that can be accessed as and when it’s needed.

Big companies could even strike agreements with private medical companies that allow staff to access discounted mental health support, such as cognitive behavioural therapy, to help them bolster their mental resilience. Whatever form it takes, it’s clear mental health support will be the zeitgeist of 2021, with just 1% of companies planning to invest less in the area [Wellable].

2. Allowing employees to work in a way that suits them

The past year has taught many businesses how effectively their teams can work outside of the traditional office environment. And for employees, some have realised they’re much happier and more productive at home, without punishing commutes, loud colleagues and office politics.

A survey by Simply Communicate found that a third of office-based staff haven’t returned to the office at all since last March’s lockdown. And Gemma Dale, lecturer, author and experienced HR professional, told the Huffington Post that “very few organisations expect the future to look like the past”.

However, the struggles of working from home have also been well documented. Lots of people are battling with a lack of focus without the accountability of the office, missing social interaction or finding it hard to draw the line between home and work. It’s been particularly tough for parents, who have had to share their workspace with children and juggle the demands of home schooling at the same time.

For these people, returning to the office on at least a flexible basis can’t come soon enough. Knight Frank found that just 8% of employees would like to work from home five days a week, so it’s clear there’s plenty of appetite to return to the office in some form. That’s why many employers are likely to adopt a hybrid approach to their workplace in 2021. This could mean finding offices that are better suited to hot-desking or using on a rota basis to meet each employee’s needs.

3. Promoting a healthy lifestyle

Pre-pandemic, lots of office workers would indulge in happy hour drinks or decadent lunches at least once a week. It offered a way for teams to catch up away from the formal office setting. Now, it seems many companies are shifting their focus to maintain connection in a more health-focused way.

Covid-19 has made lots of people more conscious of their health, so it’s likely office activities will change to reflect this. It’s likely we’ll see more of:

  • Group activity clubs – Whether it’s walking, running, yoga or hiking, finding ways to get active together during and after restrictions will be crucial.
  • Mental health-focused activities – This could take the form of meditation sessions, virtual coffee breaks or virtual Friday night celebrations.
  • Nutritious menus – Offices with on-site cafés and shops are likely to stock more nutrient-rich options and serve decadent meals less frequently.
  • Ergonomic working environments – For both home and the office, employers look set to invest in making workspaces comfortable and productive to combat the ‘work from home hunch’ many people have developed.

4. Improving the office experience

The benefits of incorporating greenery and other homely touches into the office has been well documented. Now, offices could go a step further to make sure people are motivated to return to their desks. Knight Frank found that 36% of UK businesses believe a better quality office space is going to be a key part of the return to work strategy. A further 63% said the design and specification of their offices will take priority going forwards.

As some office-based businesses downsize due to some team members going completely remote, they’ll be looking to use their budget for a higher quality of space. Fully serviced offices and co-working spaces are likely to be highly sought after for the additional features they offer. Popular must-haves could include:

  • Bicycle racks
  • Showers (to encourage active commuting)
  • Barista-standard tea and coffee
  • Comfortable break-out areas
  • Super-fast Wi-Fi
  • On-site cafés
  • Spaces to unwind and relax in

5. Removing physical barriers to encourage collaboration

With employees spending less time in the office, it’s likely workspaces will become a more collaborative space for brainstorms, discussions and team meetings, which just don’t create the same energy over Zoom. Tasks that require concentrated focus will be saved for home working, allowing employees to pick and choose where they work based on the day or week’s schedule.

The set desk or cubicle set-up that’s been favoured for decades is likely to fall out of fashion. Instead, expect offices to be filled with open-plan desk clusters, more break-out spaces equipped with brainstorming board, and hot desking setups to allow work to happen with anyone, anywhere.

Want to read more? Check out our previous guides for more handy insight, tips and inspiration.