There’s no denying the past couple of years have dramatically altered views about how and where people work — especially the role of the physical office. Remote work has become commonplace for a vast majority whose jobs allow it. According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, 60 per cent of workers say they’d like to continue working from home all or most of the time, if possible. This is up from 54 per cent who said the same in 2020.
However, the same survey revealed there are still many employees who prefer to go to the office, at least part of the time. Six in 10 of these workers say a major reason they rarely or never work from home is simply that they prefer working at the office. A similar share (61 per cent) cite feeling more productive there.
As the post-Covid workplace continues to take shape, the role of the office must shift along with these changing attitudes. Architects, designers and facility managers face a significant challenge in adapting the traditional office environment to a space people want to return to for inspiration, collaboration and community. The skillful use of colour, acoustical control and modular spaces all contribute to how office space can accommodate a multi-generational workforce with various work styles and abilities.
Material selection, too, can make a big difference in whether a space inspires calm concentration or energetic collaboration. When it comes to flooring materials, carpet is an ideal choice for office environments because its acoustical control, design flexibility and underfoot comfort contribute to warm, inviting spaces and it can be adapted to suit a wide range of needs.
Poor acoustics are the greatest criticism people have about their work environment. Analyzed data shows acoustical satisfaction is the lowest rating in LEED post-occupancy evaluations. The requirement for ‘intellectual work,’ like creative thinking, problem-solving and collaboration — precisely the kind of work that helps companies outperform their competition — is 55 decibels. But typical office noise reaches 65 decibels. (For frame of reference, a busy highway averages 85 decibels.) That level of noise leads to a huge loss in productivity, so it is easy to see why people are getting frustrated with noisy offices.
Every time a person is distracted by unwanted noise, it takes an average of 15 minutes to regain concentration. If each employee has five noise-related distractions in an eight‐hour day, that equates to a 15 per cent reduction in productivity. In a company of 200 staff, this is equivalent to 30 people being paid to do nothing. Installing carpet, along with acoustical ceilings and other absorptive surfaces, can help keep noise down and allow people to focus on their work.
Another benefit carpet brings to the workplace is the flexibility to create unique spaces that accommodate diverse work styles and preferences. While one employee may prefer a vibrant, open plan area where conversation and collaboration happen naturally, another may desire a softer, cozy space similar to the home office they’ve become accustomed to over the past few years. Carpet can accommodate both ends of this spectrum and even be designed in ways that strengthen organizational culture, such as adding logos or other graphical elements.
Those who work in environments with natural elements, such as greenery and sunlight, report a 15 per cent higher level of creativity than those with no connection to natural elements. Even when these elements are not available, new carpet technologies can simulate their appearance and effects to increase joy and overall wellness.
Neurodiversity, which refers to variations in human neurocognitive functioning like the different ways people think, process information and relate to others, is an important consideration for workplace design. One in seven people are estimated to have a neurodiverse condition, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, autism, dyspraxia, dyslexia or Tourette’s syndrome. Less than half are aware of their condition and very few businesses are designing workplaces to accommodate their needs. Yet people with these conditions often have a unique perspective on the world that can help unlock innovation, creativity and big picture thinking in organizations.
How an office environment is designed — and the types of materials installed throughout the space — can impact thinking, behaviour, engagement, social awareness and interactive experiences. Carpet’s flexibility is just one way designers can create spaces that accommodate people of all abilities and work styles.
While carpet has many benefits for the workplace, its contribution to healthy indoor air quality (IAQ) isn’t usually the first one that comes to mind. But if the right product is chosen, soft surface flooring can help contribute to better IAQ in the office in significant ways.
Among the biggest worries facilities managers have with carpet is moisture, since damp carpet can lead to mould or microbial growth. However, there are options that offer the benefits of carpet combined with the long-lasting performance and sustainability attributes of resilient flooring.
One such product is a heterogeneous construction of nylon and closed-cell impermeable cushion. Fused together through heat and pressure, the layers are integral and inseparable. The innovative closed-cell cushion provides a wall-to-wall moisture barrier for the life of the product, allowing any moisture to stay on top of the floor instead of seeping down to the subfloor where mould and mildew can grow.
Leslie Thompson is director of workplace strategy for Tarkett North America. As part of strategic marketing, Leslie works closely with design on trend forecasting, research and new product development for the workplace segment. She finds inspiration in collaborative dialogue with the architecture and design community, International Interior Design Association, CoreNet and the global Tarkett group to further expand the company’s design leadership position.