Months after endless lockdown and the roll-out of vaccines, the world is eager to be back to “the new normal”. We haven’t known the exact days yet, but no matter when it is, companies are likely much better off having a plan for this return.
COVID-19 killed the traditional workplace, and completely changed our perceptions about work. There’s no one-size-fit all design of work post COVID-19. But these office design features need special consideration from all kinds of businesses.
1. The flexible hybrid design trend
Work-from-home is no longer a privilege but a choice for many companies. Although people are excited to return to office, there may be large swathes of workers who actually prefer to work at home going forward. Even Google or Facebook has adapted the policy that allows their members to work-from-home for 3 or 4 days per week. At this point, hybrid-remote work arrangements should be considered.
The hybrid design refers to a flexible workplace model designed to support both in-office and remote workers. A hybrid office will be a mix of collaborative and private spaces with easy to reconfigure furniture, multipurpose areas employees can use depending on the work they’re doing, Interactive conference room and Technology that makes it easy for employees to reserve available workspace.
2. Reorganize existing office furniture
The most feasible option at the moment to assist the employers back to the office as safely and as quickly as possible is retrofitting the workplace to align with current health guidelines.
Social distancing is your best, first line of defense. Employee’s desks should be spaced 1.5m apart from each other, while other unnecessary furniture can be removed to increase free space. Instead of sitting face-to-face, people will have their chairs back-to-back. There also might be visual design cues in between to enforce 1.5m rules.
A wider corridor with one-way foot traffic and doorways is suggested to reduce the risk of transmission accidentally or unintentionally. One-way foot traffic is moving in a single direction by one entrance and one exit door. The minimum width requirement in a corridor is 1.2 to 1.5 meters for two people able to
walk in the alley.
3. Repurpose communal spaces
Communal spaces include larger conference rooms, cafeterias, and employee lounges. In the past, those areas were high-touch, collaborative, and open space work environments that encouraged opportunities for impromptu social interactions. As a result, those areas are going unused to comply with COVIDsafe guidelines.
Rather than avoiding these rooms altogether, they can be repurposed as temporary workspaces for employees that allow them to spread out from one another. If it is impossible to change in some areas, the number of seats can be reduced to decrease the occupancy rate. Cleaning and sanitizing procedures should be prioritized as well.
4. Rethink the reception area
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, a reception area served the main purpose of welcoming the customers, clients, or other visitors. While this approach certainly increases the brand image and reputation, reception areas post-pandemic could see a major overhaul.
The reception areas are reimagined as a decontamination lounge. New protocols including QR code scan, taking the temperature at the door, and hand sanitizing stations may become commonplace. On the other hand, other amenities that pose a higher risk of infection like self-serve coffee or high-touch communal items will likely be removed.
5. Update air filtration and ventilation
Improving air filtration and ventilation is a critical thing to reduce the spread of viruses. The easiest way is simply to open the window.
- Using portable high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) fan/filtration systems to help enhance air cleaning (especially in higher-risk areas).
- Running the HVAC system at maximum outside airflow for 2 hours before and after occupied times. If your budget cannot cover HVAC, portable air purifiers can be placed around the office for a fraction of the cost. This is especially useful if office windows can’t be opened to air out the space.
- Disable demand-control ventilation (DCV) controls that reduce air supply based on temperature or occupancy.
- Inspect filter housing and racks for appropriate filter fit and minimize filter bypass.
6. Technology embedded in the office design
As a crucial tool to facilitate hybrid office design, technology can be used to reduce the corporate footprints when returning to work. Contactless technology can also be used to minimize touch in common spaces, such as self-opening doors, automatic scanners to monitor health, and sanitization. In addition, the company may need to invest more in the new system supporting remote and distributed business in collaborative teams across the world. They include a bigger screen for online conferencing, remote technologies for all staff that can work from home or other remote locations, cyber security policy to enforce information safety, etc.
Returning to the office not only requires re-arranging office space but also needs emotional and personal preparation for a lot of employees.
In the trigger phase when protocols and workstations are changing, communication is key. The best back-to-work plan should be aware of by all relevant stakeholders to ensure that it is made for them and aim to improve their well-being at work. Let your employees express their expectations, and what to expect when they return to the office once the restrictions are lifted.
Two years ago, no one predicted that the work environment paradigm would fundamentally flip. Office designs with COVIDsafe are made to prioritize people’s well-being, support harmony between the employee and its environment to enable and empower people at work.
Will your office be ready for the “new normal”?