OFFICES need a “rethink” to make them “fun, flexible spaces” that people want to return to after home working. 

That is the view of a business founder with three decades’ experience in products and services designed to boost wellbeing and productivity.

Guy Osmond, who established Wimborne-based Osmond Ergonomics, pointed to one report that says fewer than one in 10 workers wanted to come back to the office full-time.

He said working from home had its downsides. “We are seeing countless homeworking setups that are simply inadequate – not enough space, unsuitable chairs, poor lighting, tables tops completely the wrong height in relation to seating, all of it reducing productivity and ultimately impacting employees’ physical health,” he said.

“For example, we work with many physios who, three months into the first lockdown, saw a surge in shoulder problems – almost all among people working at their dining tables, sitting with hunched shoulders all day.

“It’s a case of 'out of sight, out of mind' for many employers unfortunately - I think we’re heading for a tsunami of musculoskeletal issues.”

He said an office could be better for staff in a host of ways. “It brings social interaction, which is so important for mental health, it allows employees to absorb the culture of their organisation, and there is that all-important learning by ‘osmosis’ through being around experienced colleagues,” he said.

“Osmond Ergonomics always talks about the 4Cs - communication, collaboration, concentration and contemplation. As employers get people back into offices, it’s vital they ask themselves – why do you want them back? What will they be doing in the office? And how are they going to do it?

“A problem many organisations have been seeing is a lack of creativity and spontaneity over lockdown. By creating break out spaces and informal seating in your office, you can facilitate those serendipitous interactions that spark creativity. For instance, one of our popular products is the mobile booth which inspires flexible, creative working.”

He said banks of desks with grey walls and strip lighting should go.

“We need flexible, fun spaces, that stimulate the imagination, as well as quiet, contained areas. Acoustics are really important, and many more offices are investing in pods and dens to foster concentration and contemplation,” he added.

“If people are happy, they are going to be more productive.

“That’s why biophilia – the wellbeing boost we get from nature – is another element we’re seeing incorporated in office design more and more. Not just a few pot plants, but walls of greenery –  even photos of the natural world or good fake plants have the same effect. Good lighting and air quality are also key – especially post-Covid.”

He said rather than forcing people back to the workplace, employers could create a “magnetic office” that attracts people back.