Workplace Strategy Post-lockdown: Workplace Design

04-06-2020

With the UK continuing to battle COVID-19, social distancing measures and Government restrictions are in place. Whilst some key workers continue to travel to work, most of us have adapted to working from home, but we miss attending a workplace. In this blog, we will explore our workplace strategy for slowly returning to the workplace and the statistical evidence explaining how our country is coping with working from home. We will also discuss ways of how the office can be adapted to accommodate social distancing and speculate what the office will look like in 2021.

How important is the workspace?

According to WKSpace’s analysis, “91% of employees say that the workplace is still required”, despite currently working from home. Whilst the public initially enjoyed a slower pace of life, it was not in replace of a well-designed office. It appears that the novelty of working from home is wearing off, and the office as we know it will evolve to suit a new way of life. The values of the office include collaborative working, internal and external client meetings and socializing with colleagues- something that cannot be easily done from home. As humans, we are social creatures and face to face conversations are important. The office also presents a physical space that allows for chance encounters which is hard to replicate in the home setting. However, it seems like working from home has had an impact on the way we now perceive the workplace, and our ‘new normal’ workspace will be a blend of the home and office.

Living through a pandemic has increased anxiety levels of cleanliness in individuals. Therefore, it is important to instill confidence in the public that workspaces will be safe and an enjoyable place to work in. Understandably, “74% of employees stated they need to know in advance a plan before reentering the workplace, employers must ensure the workplace is appropriately accommodating and formally conduct social distancing measures” (WKSpace, 2020). The office needs to be adapted in a way that allows communication between staff, understanding their need for a flexible work pattern and most importantly considers their health and wellbeing and the environment. Because of the uncertainty, firms do not want to spend a mass amount on a refit but there are solutions that do not require a lot of upheaval or cost.

How can the office be adapted?

The office space connotes collaborative working, client meetings and socialization, so it must be able to facilitate these requirements. Whilst most people are apprehensive of these changes, office layout has always come under scrutiny and will benefit workers in the long run. For example, where offices may typically follow a linear layout, changing to loops would allow a one-way system of traffic through the office, meaning less congestion and disturbances. Equally, having desks more spaced out resolves an ongoing issue of the office being too densely packed and noisy, so mid-height screens and distancing are positive evolutions to the workplace.

Similarly, whilst many articles have speculated on the death of an open plan office, it is not a thing of the past. Open plan layouts can help minimize density through utilizing furniture as partitioning to create various working ‘zones’, a design layout we have adopted in multiple commercial spaces because of the flexibility and style. The battle between having your own desk and hot desking both have merit; shielding with screens not only has an environmental impact but can make you feel isolated or anxious.  According to WKSpace’s statistics, “40% want their own desk and 41% want to hot desk but have their own keyboard and mouse and 19% would rather sit as normal but with a screen”. BBC’s (2020) article says agile working allows businesses who do not have the money to expand to utilize the space they have safely, providing they are properly spaced apart. Equally, if not for screens, X-Mist is an efficient alternative that decontaminates the office whilst it is unoccupied, meaning minimal disturbance to staff and stays active for up to 7 days on surfaces.

WKSpace webinar ‘Understanding How Workers And The Workplace May Change Post Covid-19

Another tool that we have all become more accustomed to from working at home is technology, especially video calls. Whilst it does not have the same personal touch as a face-to-face meeting, it does provide an efficient way of communication that is not only safe but can be done from multiple locations. This means that it can help with the gradual adaption back to the office environment. If, however, your role requires you to physically visit multiple sites, face masks and social distancing must be adhered.

Equally, this gradual movement back to the office means that different staff members will be in the office different days and work patterns will change. Since the Government are trying to discourage hot-desking, another alternative is ‘hoteling’. ‘Hoteling’ is when 2 or 3 people are allocated one desk but on different days of the week, meaning as an employer, you know who is accountable for that specific desk. Flexible work patterns also mean that there will be less traffic in the office, around 30% capacity per day would allow for sufficient distancing as there is more open space and less desks.

What will the 2021 office look like?

Of course, this pandemic will never be forgotten, and the aftermath of these changes will see some continued involvement in the future of office design. There are temporary fixes, like sneeze screens, but we need to utilise the opportunities of exploring more efficient and safety conscious workplace layouts. Incorporating hygiene rituals into the everyday norm, like placing Sanitiser Stations in high-traffic spaces will eventually become commonplace and inevitably improve our levels of hygiene. Equally, offices will begin to mimic hospitals in the sense of considering heavy duty materials that can withstand cleaning like stone and laminates.

Adopting workplace zoning methods means that the office would have less storage space to minimize surface contamination and would assume roughly 60% occupation level, allowing employees the flexibility to work at home when needed. Equally, during the summer months, redesigning available outdoor space for stand-up meetings or distanced clustered eating areas means no space will be left idle.

Summary

In summary, the most important consideration in creating a workplace strategy is to be agile in your mindset. Ultimately, this is a period of confusion and whilst we do not know what will happen in the future, it is important to keep thinking of new solutions to problems we face surrounding hygiene and wellbeing. It is a balance of separation and connection that will lead us to self-regulate and become in-tune with the ‘new normal’ workplace.

Links to Products:

X-Mist: X-Mist is a disinfecting mist that diffuses throughout the room, kills 99.999% of bacteria and is simple to use. New test certification in May 2020 for BS EN 14476 proven to kill COVID-19.

Sanitiser Station: The Touch-Free Hand Sanitiser Station efficiently dispenses hand sanitiser and is sensor operated so no touch is required. They are available in wooden or metal variations and can be freestanding or wall fixed to suit any space.

Sources:

‘Coronavirus: Will office be safe for a return to work?’, 2020, BBC News

‘How offices will change after coronavirus’, 2020, BBC Worklife

‘Experts say the office as we knew it is gone and companies will need one-way hallways, sneeze guards, and other safety measures to let employees return. Here’s what it could look like.’, 2020, Business Insider

‘Understanding How Workers And The Workplace May Change Post Covid-19”, 2020, Hannah Nardini’s WKSpace webinar

‘What will be the “new normal” for the workplace?’ , 2020, Workplace Trends webinar