In our series on the workplace, we are looking at both big ideas (long term) and simple ways (quick wins) to help get your employees back into the office.
Having all lived through the world’s biggest experiment in global homeworking, we know that our relationship with the place of work has changed forever.
In our last blog, we identified five big trends that will shape workplace design:
For Facilities and HR Managers facing the immediate challenge of getting the workforce back to the place of work, we’ve pulled together our top five tips that will help you to quickly and cost-effectively adapt your workplace.
Two universal truths
The workplace has been extended beyond the office walls to a million spare rooms with web cams.
It’s important to continue to give your employees choices, so before we jump into adapting workspace, we must embrace two new universal truths:
How do we persuade people to leave the comfort of their home and return to work?
Many will not want to relinquish the extra time afforded by not commuting and the extra money in their pocket.
As well as high standards of hygiene, the office must become a compelling destination to draw people back. The speed of return will be dictated by:
There are five things you can do to proactively prepare your workplaces and help to draw your employees back.
The office provides the physical manifestation of your care for the welfare of your employees – never has the need been greater to clearly demonstrate that people are at the heart of your business.
A mass return to work will require a leap of faith, and an increased investment in health and safety provision. H&S staff who were often perceived as unnecessarily pedantic are suddenly the experts we need to turn to for advice.
Maintenance and cleanliness provide visible proof that you take your duty of care to employees seriously. It’s also important to try to build trust between employees by encouraging everyone to maintain the same standards of hygiene.
Quick wins include:
All of these measures will limit the risk of infection and help to build confidence.
In the longer term, we will take inspiration from hospital design with a ‘disinfection infrastructure’ – choosing antimicrobial finishes for floors, furniture, curtains and door handles. Sanitisation tunnels and mist sprays on building entry can also be incorporated into office design.
Quarantine rooms and oxygen supplies may well become the norm.
Air conditioning design can be modified to separate floors or zones. The introduction of HEPA (High-efficiency Particulate Air) filters and high-energy ultra-violet light units can help to kill bacteria and viruses.
The softer side of welfare and ‘well’ design
Consideration for mental well-being must also be clearly demonstrated. To help create an office that provides a sense of security and an escape from the outside world, introduce elements of biophilic design, connecting your space to the natural environment.
This does not need to be expensive – it could be as simple:
On a grander scale, it can be introduced into office design, using natural finishes – wood, stone, natural colour palettes, and the introduction of living walls.
The objective is to enhance our senses and reduce stress levels.
The pandemic has highlighted that our world is fragile. There is a heightened sense of collective responsibility to protect it, particularly amongst millennials. Workplace can quite easily become the expression of your Environmental Social Governance approach.
Quick wins include:
Think outside the box
Help employees to feel secure by reducing the comings and goings at the office – for example, invite a food service into the office to save individual employees from having to venture outside in search of their lunchtime snack.
Traffic can also be reduced through provision of a concierge service that staff can use to run simple errands such as post office or laundry trips.
More flexible work schedules and rotating teams will naturally help to reduce the number of employees in the office at any one time, making social distancing easier.
Our hybrid working life (home and office) will be matched by hybrid workspaces – a mix of personal space and communal touchdown areas that help to create that all-important sense of community.
Keep your office open plan – it is easier to clean (less doors handles to open) and easier to ventilate to allow air flow.
Privacy will be facilitated through enclosed booths with video conference facilities to connect with those working remotely. Where meeting rooms are required, replace existing doors with swing or motion sensor doors to reduce contact points.
Adapting existing workstations
We know that the size of office desks has reduced, in line with shrinking or obsolete technology – laptops versus desktops, mobile phones, fax machines etc.
It will be necessary to space out staff and use glass panels or plastic shields in some instances.
Make workstations minimal and remove clutter. Providing personal equipment (laptop or tablet and phone) will reduce the risk of cross contamination and do away with cumbersome wires, making it easier to clean.
Make available disposable recyclable place mats that individuals can use for the day and recycle.
With social distancing, the cost per square foot is going to be squeezed. With an eye firmly on the ways in which people will work in the future (employees want to collaborate in the office), there is much that can be done to help in the longer term:
The future workstation
We know that agile working and collaboration will be central to future office design.
Rather than having personal desks that are used only 50% of the time, offer touch down communal spaces that offer more flexibility, with a variety of comfortable furniture, supplemented by a private locker for each employee.
Don’t leave behind the more introverted members of your workforce, factor in quiet spaces too.
New prototype desks and pods are already available, they incorporate technology such as a central screen that allows the pod to connect both office and remote workers.
As public transport is not encouraged, and car sharing reduces, we are likely to see an increase in smaller community nodes, rather than big central work hubs as people are less inclined to commute.
Not only will there be a need for more parking or bike racks, but you should accommodate for personal care such as shower rooms.
We have all become accustomed to the temporary one-way systems and floor stickers that are now a part of everyday life in terms of shopping or visiting public spaces.
Our movement within the workplace must also be more tightly managed through more detailed journey planning and improved wayfinding.
Temporary decals or stickers can be used to experiment with the space you have, to be replaced by more permanent professional looking solutions, once the new system has been tried and tested.
Is now a good time to invest in digital signage which can be easily updated as rules change?
We know that working remotely is possible. We know the advantages in terms of time and cost savings and the ability to put the washing machine on between meetings!
But we also miss our colleagues, the human connection and the shared learning that the workplace can bring. Work culture is intangible but extremely important. Nowhere is company culture more evident than in the office.
The workspace gives employers the opportunity to express values and set expectations, to inspire and inform in a way that an online meeting cannot.
Banks, with their expensive imposing buildings, have known for centuries that their buildings are the ultimate expression of their brand – secure, impressive, sturdy.
Together with design, workplace branding can create the appeal needed to draw people back by making the workplace a destination in its own right.
Design led workplaces, that use graphics and colour and texture and form, create a sense of cohesion. Without this, you risk simply providing a space for a fragmented group of people, loosely connected by tasks and functions, rather than shared values.
Any space has to be designed, so design it carefully, with thought to what you want it to say about your company and how you want your employees to feel. After working from the comfort of home, it’s important to draw inspiration from the hospitality industry to make it comfortable and welcoming, as well as functional.
With increased emphasis on shared spaces, it’s important to not depersonalise too much. Employees still respond better if they are personally engaged, for example through a digital wall of photos.
Video conferencing changed the way we work at home and it will continue to be further integrated in the workplace, bringing together remote and office workers. Now is the time to invest in AV – surely it has already proven it’s ROI over the past few months?
A switch to individual equipment revolutionises our personal connection with technology but technology can also help to make our workplaces worker friendly and safer.
Many of the big ticket solutions will require substantial investment, so expect to see closer collaboration between tenant and landlord. Certification for COVID-proof spaces, fitted with sophisticated ventilation systems, anti-microbial materials and smart technology that will help to make the work experience touchless.
In larger multi-tenant offices, there is a need for collaboration so that all users feel comfortable and safe. Individual tenant companies may have to prove adherence to stringent pandemic requirements.
In the longer term, touchless technology is central to a safer working environment. Motion sensors, face, voice and iris recognition technologies will be harnessed to automate:
Technology can also help to deliver your ESG agenda through improved environmental control and smarter facilities management.
Beware short termism
Interim measures, such as plastic screens, can seem like the most cost effective and quickest to implement workplace changes but think carefully before you invest.
They can leave you with an office that is not conducive to collaboration and not aesthetically appealing. It can also be expensive to rectify when circumstances change and can also lead to a substantial amount of undesirable waste, both in financial and environmental terms.
We’ll be looking at sustainability in the workplace.
If you feel you could benefit from no-obligation advice on how to bring your workplace up-to-date, ready for the post-COVID world, we are right here to help.