How to make your office work in a post-COVID world

Use of transparent or translucent barriers achieves separation between employees while promoting teamwork. Courtesy photo

BY FREDA MIKLIN
GOVERNMENTAL REPORTER

In an informative webinar presented by Interior Environments, a Denver office design firm and local dealer for Allsteel Gunlocke and HNI Global, a team of specialists from multiple disciplines got together to analyze and present issues and solutions for companies trying to figure out how they can modify and reconfigure their workplaces and furnishings for the new post-COVID-19 world. The ideas are applicable for both existing and new spaces.

Before deciding on a plan, managers should first consider whether and identify the reasons why each individual
employee needs to return to the office instead of continuing to work remotely, prioritizing the short and long-term health and safety of employees, clients, and visitors.

Products used in offices that were previously evaluated primarily on sustainability, will need to also be evaluated for how easily they can be cleaned frequently with products that kill viruses. 

A review and evaluation of ventilation in one’s building should be performed to increase rates of outdoor air circulation wherever possible. Policies about wearing masks should be determined. 

Rearranging work stations in a pinwheel design allows employees to be close to each other with minimal risk of infection. Courtesy photo

Then the hard work begins. Determining how to create separation and boundaries, spatial distancing and a floorplan that ensures safety while promoting teamwork, as well as sustainability, is the challenge every office will face.

Alternating workstations are one way to ensure appropriate distance between employees while allowing for the possibility of returning to a more traditional arrangement sometime in the future. Rearranging them in a pinwheel fashion allows employees to be relatively close to one another in a safe way. Managers should be mindful to remove extra seats in empty spaces to prevent inadvertently violating social distancing. 

Screening between work stations, barriers of a certain height, and opposite orientation promotes distancing. Barriers can be made out of transparent materials to promote teamwork. Glass is easier to clean and less expensive than clear plastic panels and can be designed to be able to be removed in the future it it is determined that they are not necessary.

Built in flexibility using modular walls, planters, screens, and storage can provide space and boundaries without making people feel separated. “In person collaboration connects ideas and thoughts. How do we stand apart and not be alone?” asked one CEO. 

Everything will have to be removed from desktops at the end of every day so that they can be cleaned well. A new addition to offices will be cleaning stations with products and tools arranged in a practical and not-unattractive fashion for employees to utilize as they see fit. Managers must consider the need to clean surfaces like conference tables and chairs before and after every use. Companies should work with their regular cleaning companies to determine new post COVID-19 procedures and associated costs, including deep cleaning before employees return. 

Some companies might use virtual meetings even if employees are in the office when it isn’t possible to accommodate all participants with proper social distancing in one place.

Many offices will need to stagger start and end times for employees to limit the number of people in the office at one time. It is also important to install signs to inform visitors of rules for distancing, wearing of masks, hand washing, sanitizing, and even gathering and queuing at coffee stations.

An important question might be, “How do you handle coffee and food in the office?” It is important to the culture of many companies to have food available to employees, particularly after they have been home for months making all their own food and potentially limited restaurant options. Even if restaurants nearby are open, they might not have enough tables available to accommodate the number of customers trying to get in at lunchtime.

Besides focusing on the office, managers should also consider if employees working from home 50 percent or more of the time have the right technology, ergonomic chairs, and other necessary equipment that promotes efficiency.

Before the day they open their doors to welcome back their valued employees, managers should consider the importance of those employees feeling comfortable when they return to the office, whatever that looks like for them. Returning to work should be a positive experience. You might not know whether you’ve achieved that goal unless you ask.

Fmiklin.villager@gmail.com

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