Many of us are now starting to envisage a time when we’re able to return to the office. And while office spaces will require short-term pandemic-proof fixes, in the longer-term they’ll also need to be more easily adapted through innovative, light-touch and cost-effective design solutions.
These are the thoughts of IOBAC Ltd’s co-founder Ian Spreadborough and CEO Paul Woolvine, who believe one such solution is adhesive-free flooring. IOBAC Ltd is a technology company specialising in innovative flooring and heating solutions.
Why now is the time for change
Firstly Paul, why do you feel that office spaces will need longer-term changes to their design? “Well office spaces have been evolving at a steady pace for the last decade. The trend has very much been toward more flexible, collaborative spaces centred on sustainability. The pandemic will have quickened this process because however much we’ve missed being in the office, we’ve proven that we can get by – to a certain extent – without it,” begins Paul.
“That presents a challenge to businesses. Inevitably, people will return to the office, but people’s expectations have changed. People will expect more – or at least something different – from the office.”
Future offices: meeting changing expectations
“Offices have changed considerably over the last 10 years and undoubtedly would have continued to evolve,” says Ian. “The pandemic has just accelerated this process, meaning that the time is now for offices to be entirely rethought and transformed for a post-Covid world.
“There’ll be those that are indifferent about returning to the office, so businesses will need to make their workplaces compelling enough to encourage them back. Others will be desperate to get back and collaborate and catch up with friends, but even those people’s expectations will have changed. Companies will need to take a fresh look at their spaces and how they foster desired outcomes for collaboration, productivity, culture, and the work experience generally.”
In March 2021, BBC News reported that people are “tired of working from home” and Howard Dawber, head of strategy at Canary Wharf Group, said “people are missing office and city-centre life.” He added: “I think now people are really missing that opportunity to collaborate with and just see their friends in the office.”
Industry chatter suggests employee expectations will cover several key themes upon returning to the office:
- Aligning workspaces with the promotion of health and wellness. This may lead to what were previously meeting rooms being made into common areas or cafes.
- Encouraging new behaviours, including protocols around cleanliness.
- Improving workplace vibrancy to create a compelling enough environment to keep people returning to the office day in day out.
- And last, but not least: people want an environmentally-friendly workspace.
“Being environmentally-conscious has been a must for businesses for some time now,” continues Paul. The pandemic and the efficiency with which people have adapted to working from home has brought that even more sharply into focus. If people are to return to the office – and get there via a polluting bus, train or car – they need to know that the space they’re going to is environmentally-friendly. It’s a must.”
Global lockdowns and the rise in remote working have certainly brought to the fore pre-existing debate around the sustainability of businesses, office space and commercial property generally. It’s sparking a change in the way we think about work and the way we interact with our environment every day.
Research by Instant Offices suggests that nearly half of Brits admit to being more environmentally responsible at home than they are in the office. This is mainly due to the lack of control over green activities at work and ignorance over their company’s energy and sustainability policies.
Despite this, 57 per cent of businesses are making changes to their spaces because staff are demanding it (McKinsey & Company). Research from HSBC also shows that 69 per cent of businesses say they would support their workforce to reduce the impact on the environment, with sustainability cited as the fourth biggest growth driver among companies looking to expand in the next two years.
Sustainable choices from the ground up
“Typically, large manufacturers manufacture products reasonably responsibly. But when it comes to flooring, the missing piece of the puzzle is the materials and processes used to fix the floor covering to the floor,” says Ian.
“EzyInstall is what we call our dry-laid magnetically-receptive underlay,” explains Ian. “It takes away all the messy, time-consuming issues that can arise with traditional, adhesive-reliant solutions. There’s minimal sub-floor preparation needed, you simply roll out an underlay and cut to size. It’s waterproof, naturally anti-microbial, easily cleanable, durable and manufactured using recycled rubber from old tyres. It’s perfect for reuse time and again and ticks all the sustainability boxes.”
The final step is to fix magnetically-backed tiles into place – much like putting a fridge magnet on a fridge – or affix a standard backed tile using MagTabs.
IOBAC’s MagTabs are little magnetic squares that transform ordinary floor coverings into magnetic ones. Magnetic on one side and self-adhesive on the other, they work by locking tiles tightly together in two dimensions – horizontally and to the Ezy-Install underlay vertically.
Alternatively, IOBAC’s magnetically-receptive resin forms a permanent, durable base onto which a wide choice of floor coverings can be fixed. Once installed, the resin remains intact, enabling the surface floor covering to be switched quickly and easily when repair or design changes are needed.
Paul comments: “We feel that these inherently flexible and environmentally-friendly technologies are perfectly suited to the demands faced by the modern office.
“They’re much more environmentally-friendly than typically messy traditional solutions and they allow you to be creative and flexible with your design. The flooring of a space can completely transform its look, feel and purpose. Imagine if you could make that transformation overnight, , and keep the tiles you’ve pulled up for future use elsewhere.”
Counteracting the flooring industry’s ‘messy’ past
Sustainability has long been a thorn in the side of the flooring industry. A recent report by the Changing Markets Foundation, for example, estimates that an area the size of Birmingham, UK is thrown away in carpet each year. In the UK, there’s around 400,000 tonnes of waste carpet each year, over half of which currently goes into landfill (Carpet Recycling UK).
This happens, in part, because traditional floor coverings are notoriously difficult to recycle, and even 100 per cent recyclable products can be tough to recycle when installed using adhesive-based methods. This is because – on uplift – the floor tile is more likely to be contaminated by not only the adhesive, but also the subfloor to which it was affixed, meaning it’s not suitable for recovery and reuse and can’t be recycled.
As IOBAC’s flooring system is free from wet adhesives, surface tiles remain uncontaminated when uplifted and can therefore be easily recycled or reused.
Paul comments: “With IOBAC solutions, there’s no residue left on either the tile or the floor and the flooring that’s been uplifted is perfectly safe and fine to be reused elsewhere or be more easily recycled.”
Putting this technology into practice
IOBAC recently put this technology to good use at a world-renowned biomedical research institute with strong sustainability principles at the core of its corporate ethos. When the 1,500m2 area within its prestigious London office was due to be refurbished, it needed to be done as sustainably as possible. The flooring, of course, was central to this. Not least because disruption during installation needed to be minimal and contamination from adhesives, tackifiers and dust eliminated completely, due to the critical working environment of the institute.
With the circular economy also firmly front of mind, the institute wanted to avoid adhesive contamination forcing the carpet tiles into landfill at the end of their working life.
This all led to IOBAC’s adhesive-free flooring solution being specified by both the architect and client, as Ian explains: “Leading flooring contractor, Loughton Contracts, working with major office fit-out specialist, Overbury, approached us after hearing the client’s flooring needs. The team at Loughton were able to complete what was a fairly complex installation by easily peeling the MagTabs from their silicone release liner and positioning them at the corners of the carpet tiles and onto the metal access floor.
“Crucially, only minimal preparation of the sub-floor was needed before installation could begin, and the finished floor could be trafficked immediately, minimising project time and disruption – two key factors for the client. And importantly, when the time comes for another re-fit, the carpet tiles used can be reused elsewhere or safely recycled, eliminating the all-too-common issue of contaminated carpet waste having to go to landfill. The raised metal access floor will also remain clean and ready to receive the next floor covering with minimal time and money required for preparation.”
Food for thought
The pandemic has certainly turned our personal, social and working worlds upside down. But with light at the end of the tunnel, attention now turns to how our lives will resume and what the spaces we work in will look like. Our expectations will have changed; we’ll expect to feel safe, first and foremost, but also impressed.
Businesses can’t take it as a given that people will be willing to return to the office. They’ll have to counteract the question of ‘why bother?’ and take action to ensure the draw is there; that the spaces they’re asking people to return to are compelling enough for people to bother.
At the heart of the answer sits sustainability. It’s something that people have increasingly demanded from businesses over the past 10 or so years, but now the pandemic will likely accelerate society’s move toward a truly more sustainable future. Not least because one of the few benefits of the last 12 months has been reducing our personal carbon footprints. The spaces we’re asking people to return to therefore need to counteract – or even improve upon – the impact to the environment that getting there requires. This will take innovative, light-touch and cost-effective design solutions; solutions like adhesive-free flooring technologies.
For more information, you can download IOBAC’s whitepaper on the role flooring will play in the future of flexible workspaces here: