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Some Companies Aim to Redesign Offices After COVID-19


An employee of Ajinomoto, a global food and drug company, walks past the company's saying in Itasca, Ill., Monday, June 7, 2021. In May, Ajinomoto's employees returned to in-person work in a space designed for a post-COVID world. (AP Photo/Shafkat Anowar)
Some Companies Aim to Redesign Offices After COVID-19
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Many companies are making changes to their offices to help employees feel safer as they return to work after more than one year of coronavirus restrictions.

Some are improving office air systems or are moving desks farther apart. Others are removing desks and building more conference rooms for employees who work at home but come in to the office for meetings.

Steelcase is an office furniture company based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It says research shows half of companies around the world plan to redesign their office space this year.

Natalie Engels works as a designer at the architecture business Gensler. She said the past year has made people think, “…Why do we go to an office?”

Not every company is making changes and Engels noted that they do not have to. She tells her customers to remember what worked well and what did not before the coronavirus health crisis.

But designers say many companies want to make employees feel safe and energized at the office. This is especially the case as some businesses report a labor shortage.

The food and drug company Ajinomoto redesigned its North American headquarters near Chicago last year based on those concerns.

Ajinomoto’s employees returned to work in May. The building had wider walking spaces and glass divisions between workspaces. This was to give workers more room and to make them feel more secure.

To improve mental health, the company added a “relaxation room.” A test kitchen was set up for online presentations. In addition to that, a cleaning crew disinfects the offices two times a day.

The wellness and relaxation room of Ajinomoto shown on shown Monday, June 7, 2021. The company redesigned its office during the COVID-19 pandemic to make it more attractive to work there. (AP Photo/Shafkat Anowar)
The wellness and relaxation room of Ajinomoto shown on shown Monday, June 7, 2021. The company redesigned its office during the COVID-19 pandemic to make it more attractive to work there. (AP Photo/Shafkat Anowar)

Ryan Smith is the executive vice president of Ajinomoto North America. He admits the efforts might be too much, but it could help those who have concerns about returning to work in the office. Smith estimates 40 percent of the new headquarters design was changed.

Shobha Surya, an employee at Ajinomoto, is energized by the space.

She said, “The office gives you a balance of work and home life.” She said it was easier to keep her attention at the office now and she is happy to be working with her co-workers again.

Lise Newman is with the architecture business SmithGroup. She said when employees are asked what they miss most about office work, they say socializing and working with colleagues.

Companies are trying to build relationships between employees by having more social areas. Some have areas that look like a coffee shop.

Newman said, “Companies are trying to create that sense that this is a cool club that people want to come into.”

Mark Bryan is a designer at M+A Architects, based in Columbus, Ohio. He expects that, in the future, an office will have different places to work in on any given day. Some workers might choose a small, private room. And others might choose a table in the office eating area.

Shobha Surya, an employee at Ajinomoto, works in a shared office space in Itasca, Ill., Monday, June 7, 2021. Surya said she feels energized by the light pouring in from skylights at the new headquarters. She added that she missed her colleagues and is happy to be back in-person. (AP Photo/Shafkat Anowar)
Shobha Surya, an employee at Ajinomoto, works in a shared office space in Itasca, Ill., Monday, June 7, 2021. Surya said she feels energized by the light pouring in from skylights at the new headquarters. She added that she missed her colleagues and is happy to be back in-person. (AP Photo/Shafkat Anowar)

Some office changes show the new mixture of working from home and at the office.

Based in New York, Valiant Technologies provides technical support and other services to businesses. It is letting its employees work mostly from home. Employees request a desk if they want to come into the office.

The company has removed desks and has put more spaces between the remaining ones. Employees leave equipment in safe storage areas.

Not every design change will stay. Steelcase brought back some employees last summer. They pushed tables in the cafeteria far apart from each other and only permitted one person to sit at a table. Steelcase’s chief Jim Keane said it made the space so sad that no one wanted to sit there.

He said he learned that workspaces need to be safe but they also need to be inspiring. He said, “People are actually going to expect more from offices in the future.”

I’m Gregory Stachel.

Dee-Ann Durbin reported this story for The Associated Press. Gregory Stachel adapted it for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.

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Words in This Story

desk n. a piece of furniture that is like a table and often has drawers

furniture n. chairs, tables, or beds that are used to make a room ready for use

architecture n. the art or science of designing and creating building

relaxation n. a way to rest and enjoy yourself

customer –n. someone who buys goods or services from a business

club n. the place where the members of a club meet

colleague –n. a person who works with you; fellow worker

cafeteria n. a place (such as a restaurant or a room in a school) where people get food at a counter and carry it to a table for eating

inspire v. to make (someone) want to do something: to give (someone) an idea about what to do or create

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