While most people are currently working from home, it is highly likely that offices and other workspaces will return in some shape or form once the pandemic subsides. Some do not have proper working environments while others miss face-to-face interaction among colleagues and collaboration opportunities that the office can offer.
The COVID-19 pandemic has overturned almost every aspect of work, most importantly, employees’ needs in the spaces where they work. A completely remote workforce can be improbable given the intangible benefits of social connection and collaboration that in-person working provides. Nevertheless, it is important for businesses to create optimal conditions for employees to work remotely as well as in the office. Companies will need to consider new strategies and transform the workplace to adapt to the workforce’s changing needs.
First Things First: Health and Well-being
Employers are always bound to comply with workplace health and safety regulations. The health and safety of employees must be prioritized by employers as they return to the office. COVID-19 has raised everyone’s awareness about their surroundings and other potential breeding grounds for communicable viruses or diseases and this has sent businesses scrambling to redesign their offices to meet new health requirements and respond to a workforce that has a heightened concern for health and well-being. A healthy paranoia, so to speak, on personal health and wellness is to be expected.
As an employer, communicating that these health precautions are in place can reassure employees that their return to work will be safe. However, it is not enough to tell your employees that it is safe to go back to the office. As an employer, you have to show that the workplace has not only been redesigned to confront the health crisis, but that these changes have been restructured around the type of work their employees do on a daily basis.
Air quality, ventilation, and temperature regulation could provide ways forward and are important factors to start on. For instance, airports, leisure facilities, and hospitals across the globe have come up with smart building solutions to better detect infections and reduce transmission. With emerging technologies just around the corner, we can surely think of simple ways to start with and long-term plans to set definite goals for workplaces and employees after the pandemic.
Reimagining the Future of Workspaces
Many of us definitely miss the simple joy of coffee with our colleagues in the pantry. Brainstorming in the lounge and sketching out ideas on the whiteboard are just some of the few things that cannot be done by remote teams. What separates a physical office from a remote work set-up is the collective energy of a space filled with enthusiastic people united in a common purpose.
It goes without saying that remote work is a success for most businesses, especially if they are fully capable and they have the means to provide their employees with the tools they need. But many are struggling with solving complex problems and creating new ideas without the intrinsic human experience of working together, not to mention in office spaces designed specifically to foster creativity and innovation that companies need to grow and be productive.
Social connections in the office build trust that can last for so long among colleagues. After many months of working apart, remote employees note that the main reason they want to go back to the office is for them to collaborate and socialize in ways that are not possible remotely. Consequently, efforts to create a wide variety of spaces and office designs that support these work modes should be ramped up to develop a working atmosphere conducive to good social interactions and active collaboration.
Employees will continue to be drawn to comfortable workspaces that support their well-being and allow them to have face-to-face conversations. And so employers and decision-makers must pivot towards encouraging safety protocols and physical distancing measures not only to boost productivity, but also to promote a work environment where your employees can feel safe. (Read: How ARCH Offices Reinvented their Spaces Amid Covid-19).
1. Carry out office-wide cleaning protocols
Employees will want to know what kind of safety protocols employers are putting into place to avoid the spread of the virus. Businesses must implement cleaning and sanitizing guidelines for all workstations, facilities, conference rooms, lounges, and lunchrooms at regular intervals throughout the day. The cleanliness of shared workstations and private desks must be given priority so the employees can concentrate on their work. Effective safety signage can also be installed in entry points and common areas to keep your employees well informed and protected.
2. Rethink meeting spaces
Gathering in a small meeting room without proper ventilation will not look good to people anymore as it can increase the risk of being infected. As people return to the office, meeting and conference rooms should be utilized by only half of the people it can accommodate. Other team members can join virtually through communication and videoconferencing platforms.
3. Improve indoor air quality
Aside from close contact with contaminated surfaces and infected people, the coronavirus could spread through airborne particles in indoor environments. Furthermore, small respiratory aerosols are released when people talk or breathe. These aerosols can build up over time in an office or any other enclosed space. Adding UV lights to air handlers can help cleanse the air and destroy bacteria and viruses. Bringing in air through heating, ventilating and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems mitigates any contaminant in a space and reduces the exposure of anyone inside.
1. Take the office outside
With improved air filtration systems becoming a key strategy to diminish COVID-19 transmission, outdoor workspaces are becoming the new trend. Some organizations have been experimenting with outdoor workspaces to increase employee engagement and offer a change of scenery. After months of working from the comfort of their homes, employees are craving human interactions to be productive. Adding an outdoor workspace can help businesses restore the lost sense of community for remote workers and give them a chance to reconnect with nature and reduce stress levels.
2. Incorporate biophilic design
Increasing the connection between people and nature does not stop in outdoor workspaces. If taking the office outside seems unachievable, you can always enjoy the benefits of nature from inside your office. Incorporating green walls, natural lighting, and lush greeneries in indoor environments can boost creativity levels, increase productivity, and make your office more attractive to potential talent and clients. Additionally, many plants act as natural air purifiers, making them more vital now than ever.
3. Revolutionize office floor plans
As companies reopen their offices, physical distancing and hygiene concerns may prompt overall floor plan designs to be changed. It is possible that businesses shift back to traditional layouts which include cubicles and private offices to encourage social distancing. Other areas to re-examine are shared facilities such as comfort rooms, which employees use over the course of the day. Door-free entrances similar to airport restrooms can be used to reduce the need to touch surfaces and door handles. Correspondingly, other doors in the office can be redesigned with a foot-contact point or an automated or voice-activated technology that allows them to be opened with the wave of a hand or voice command.
4. Touchless Technology
Numerous companies are starting to shift to touchless office innovations, for example, washrooms with motion sensor lights and light-activated hand dryers and sinks. Presently, advances that were viewed as pleasant to-have — from applications on cell phones to control lighting, temperature and AV gear, to elevators that open with corporate identifications — are being added to lessen contact.
One thing we have all learned while being isolated for almost a year now is that we value human connection and we want to interact with our colleagues physically at work again. When employees return to the office once the coronavirus pandemic eases, their productivity, health, and safety will have to be front and center.
Restructure your workspace to accommodate employees during the pandemic, and plan for this configuration to be flexible and mindful of employee needs and work habits as you make their health a priority.
The lessons we learn from this experience will help us design new work environments that promote health and wellness as values that are embedded in our office blueprint.
The future of the workplace is not certain, but it’s important to realize that we’re in the midst of a transformation.
If you’re interested in moving into an office space that has taken health, wellness, and productivity as major factors into how we have transformed our workspaces, get in touch with us!