Have you considered how you're going to get people back to work in the post-COVID world? Well, if you haven't already, it may be time to start thinking because 88 to 90 percent of people are ready to return to the office.
The workplace may look different from now on, but it's still the best place for employees to come together, align on priorities, solve problems and generate new ideas.
As organizations plan for people to return, they need a strategy for the physical workspace that follows new safety guidelines and lets employees create, collaborate and be productive without compromising their health, safety or wellbeing.
At Egyptian Workspace Partners, we realize your business needs are going to evolve as people return to work, which is why we're here to help you with your return-to-work strategy and help you reimagine your workspace.
In this article, we'll show you how we can help you redesign your current workspace so people not only feel safe but can actually be safe in the post-pandemic workplace.
7 ways to reimagine the post-covid workplace
1. Retrofit and reconfigure your Current office space
Despite the number of people working from home, business leaders expect their real estate footprint to either increase or stay the same as employees return to the office.
To return to partial capacity, organizations will need to bring their employees back in waves. They'll start by bringing back up to 50 percent of their workforce and eventually bring 75 to 100 percent of their people back in future waves.
If they want to do this, organizations should retrofit and reconfigure their workspace to limit interpersonal contact, accommodate employees and adhere to social distancing guidelines.
The key to preparing the office for the return of people requires three key strategies. When combined with new health and safety requirements, these strategies allow employees to come back to work confidently.
Companies can reduce the number of people per square foot and create a minimum of six-foot distancing between people in open workstations, meeting spaces, cafeterias and lounge spaces.
They can also rearrange furniture and the layout of their existing workspace to reduce face-to-face orientation and reduce exposure by using screens, panels and barriers.
- Turn workstations to 90-degree angles to prevent workers from working directly across or behind one another
- Increase barriers in existing workspaces by adding screens, panels, storage elements, plants or partitions
- Add screens, panels and barriers in front, beside and behind people
- Pull workstations and desks apart to increase social distancing
2. Reimagine the role of the workplace
As companies fully embrace working from home to keep employees safe and provide them with greater flexibility, many people are suggesting the office as we know it will go away.
However, working from home isn't possible for everyone, as it's more difficult to foster relationships and distractions make it hard to focus. Remote work can also hurt social capital and slow innovation.
Instead, a lot of organizations are adopting a hybrid remote and in-person work approach. They expect people will still want to come into the office and be more likely to work from home if necessary.
Going forward, the workplace will no longer be a single location but a broad ecosystem of spaces to provide people with a variety of choices for where they work, including the office, their home and potential satellite spaces.
By providing employees with a broad ecosystem of spaces, they can choose where and how they want to work based on their needs without compromising their health, safety or wellbeing.
3. Make collaboration hands-free and high-performing
People miss face-to-face meetings and connecting with colleagues in-person. According to the Gensler U.S. Work from Home Survey, 55 percent of workers say collaborating with others is harder working from home.
In an all-virtual environment, people struggle to have a normal conversation with others and read body language while sharing content. It's also harder to share information, solve complex problems and generate new ideas.
Now, collaboration spaces need to be inspiring, high-performing and safe. They should provide easy access to power and be able to support distributed workforces with large-scale collaboration devices and videoconferencing solutions.
With so many companies opting for a hybrid remote and in-person work strategy, team communication is more important than ever. Large-scale collaboration devices create a more inclusive experience for employees, whether they're in the same room or working remotely.
Large-scale collaboration devices usually have all-in-one video conferencing and collaboration tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams so that in-office employees can effectively communicate with remote users.
Companies can also choose to integrate desktop and mobile video and collaboration tools into employee workstations and laptops for instant communication and to limit direct person-to-person contact.
- Incorporate large-scale collaboration devices and videoconferencing solutions to improve remote collaboration and connect distributed workforces
- Install videoconferencing solutions and collaboration tools onto employee desktops, laptops and mobile devices
4. Integrate touchless technology and smart sensors
When the virus first sent everyone home, people were forced to quickly adopt new technologies so they could work and communicate with colleagues without compromising their health or safety.
As businesses return to work, technology will continue to keep employees safe, healthy and productive. Embedded layers of smart, connected technology will create a more touchless experience at work and collect occupancy data to shape future real estate decisions.
To create a more touchless experience, organizations can start by installing digital kiosks and displays at entrances and reception desks with built-in thermal technology for instant temperature readings.
Kiosks and displays can also be used for digital wayfinding to help manage employee and guest building capacity, and control traffic pathways and flow around the office.
Companies can even install space management sensors to understand what spaces are being used and what spaces aren't being used. This data can help businesses control density, influence cleaning schedules and create work environments where people can interact comfortably.
- Utilize digital kiosks and displays at entrances for instant temperature readings and touch-free voice control to limit direct person-to-person contact or exposure
- Use interactive wayfinding to show health screening check posts, isolation areas and visitor checkpoints
- Create and install digital signage to visibly communicate new protocols, safety procedures, personal hygiene tips and other information in real-time
- Install sensor systems to provide occupancy data and help you understand how space is being utilized
5. design for cleaning, disinfection and sanitation
Needless to say, the COVID-19 pandemic is changing us in many different ways. By far, the most noticeable change is our definition of cleanliness in the workplace and what it's going to look like as we continue to move forward.
As people return to the office, the ways we clean, disinfect and sanitize must change and become more transparent. Organizations should not only define what cleanliness looks like in their workplace but also develop protocols for ongoing cleaning, disinfection and sanitation.
Companies will need to confirm their facilities have at least a 30-day supply of hand soap, disinfectant spray, hand sanitizer, paper towels, tissues and any other cleaning supplies they regularly use.
They should also place sanitation stations around the office to keep the office as clean and safe as possible and encourage employees to self-clean individual and shared workspaces before and after using them.
Most importantly, business leaders should install air purification systems to clean, purify and re-energize indoor air and fight against airborne impairs such as viruses, bacteria, gases, mold and fungi.
- Provide sanitation stations that include disinfectant spray, wipes, hand sanitizer and other cleaning supplies to promote personal hygiene
- Replace common touchpoint devices like faucets, soap dispensers and towel dispensers with touchless alternatives
- Implement other hands-free experiences such as door opening sensors, automatic lighting based on occupancy and voice-activated devices
- Install air purification systems to destroy pollutants and help the workplace feel more pure, clean and energized
6. Choose easy-to-clean materials
In addition to how they properly clean their existing workspace, organizations will need to consider what materials, fabrics and surfaces they'll add in the future.
The cleanability of materials, fabrics, and surfaces in a workspace is extremely important, now more than ever. Pure, engineered materials that allow for easy cleaning and disinfection without degrading over time are the new industry standard.
Fortunately, there's no reason to sacrifice aesthetic appeal for cleanability. Companies can find and choose material options that are easy to clean and disinfect and promote a healthy, beautiful work environment.
Beyond cleaning and disinfection, some business leaders are also considering antimicrobial technologies. Antimicrobials are material additives or properties that kill or inhibit the growth or action of micro-organisms, including bacteria, fungi and viruses.
That being said, known antimicrobial additives for fabrics and surfaces have not been proven to fight against viruses like COVID-19. The best way to reduce the risk of spreading disease is to choose highly cleanable materials and remind people to wash their hands.
- Choose laminates, painted metals and other hard surfaces that are easy to clean with commercial cleaning products
- Find hard or fabric barriers that are scientifically proven to stop or deflect COVID-19 and other infections
- Opt for pure, engineered materials and fabrics that allow for easy cleaning and disinfection
7. Shift from fixed to fluid for future adaptability
Disruption is always a given. Whether it's another wave of the virus or a natural disaster, it's impossible to plan for the unavoidable, which is exactly why you need a highly adaptable office space.
Now and in the future, organizations with fixed architecture and furniture must shift to become fluid. They need spaces that adjust easily and quickly to support the social distancing requirements of today, as well as any unplanned future disruptions.
By creating a workplace that can change as needed, business leaders will be able to provide a range of diverse places and experiences that shape how people interact, to allow people to make connections and build trust that fuels their level of engagement.
- Install modular walls that provide you with the flexibility to reconfigure your office and adapt to your changing business needs and potential disruptions
- Incorporate mobile furniture solutions like Steelcase Flex so, you can easily rearrange desks, tables, carts, markerboards and boundary screens on demand
The Role of Your Workplace in a Post-COVID World
In the post-pandemic world, it can be stressful and overwhelming to keep up with health and safety guidelines that seem to change every day. But if there's anything that's certain, it's that the workplace isn't going anywhere.
The office will continue to thrive but in new, diverse ways. Its purpose will shift to provide inspiring destinations that strengthen cultural and social connections and foster creativity and innovation.
As organizations plan their return to work, they need to make choices carefully and responsibly. They should also focus on fostering a workplace that deeply supports the physical, cognitive and emotional wellbeing of its employees.
Going forward, business leaders will want to reimagine their workspace by providing a variety of work settings, leveraging smart technology, designing for disinfection and shifting from fixed to fluid space solutions.