The pandemic has created a fundamental shift in the workplace. The importance of health and wellness, while always a consideration in facility design, is now front and center. As building tenants return to the office, it will be up to facility managers to allay any fears they may have and help them feel safe and secure in their workplace.
Implementing strategies to benefit occupants’ mental and physical wellbeing has never been more important. From now on, the concept of occupant wellbeing will be inextricably linked to office design and operations. Wellness-first workplaces are no longer considered a perk; they’re a must-have for any successful business, and therefore the new normal in facility design.
Offering Choices and Flexibility
In the new normal post-pandemic, it’s unlikely that every employee will work from the office every day. Offering flexibility to employees will be key to not only maintaining a healthy work environment, but to attracting and retaining the best employees as well. Allowing employees to alternate their days in the office with days working from home gives them the flexibility to manage their lives (and therefore their mental and physical wellness) more effectively, resulting in healthier, happier, and more productive employees.
Facility managers will need to work with business leaders to develop policies for desk hoteling, staggered office schedules, and other hybrid combinations of working from home and from the office. In addition to giving employees flexibility, staggering employee schedules and implementing desk hoteling policies offer infection control benefits as well—first, fewer employees will be in the office, making them better able to maintain social distancing; and second, it will be easier to maintain building disinfection policies.
Desk hoteling means that employees don’t have an assigned desk—instead, they use one of many community desks available. This means that in between employees, desks are free of personal items, making them easier to disinfect thoroughly. But not every office will be ready to implement desk hoteling, nor will it work for every business or every employee. In these cases, facility managers will need to implement other policies making cleaning and disinfection easier, including asking employees to keep personal desk items and knick-knacks to a minimum.
Rethinking Floor Plans
Once policies for hybrid work options and surface disinfection have been put into place, facility managers will then need to create the infrastructure and implement the technology to make these policies possible. Spreading out workspaces and creating further separation (especially in open office settings) will be key. Room dividers, cubicle setups, and partitions will come in handy to change current office setups without embarking on a huge construction project. A few options from the Versare catalog that could help are:
Our Work Station Privacy Screens are available in 1, 2, and 3-panel configurations, allowing quick customization to any space.Our sleek and modern Hush Screen Portable Partition is an excellent solution for creating quick cubicles or separating work stations against a wall. Our Pre-Configured Cubicle Kits help take the guesswork out of layout and design. Whether you need an individual workstation, a small meeting space, or an entire cubicle grid, these kits can form the building blocks of your new office design.
For years floor plans were designed around collaboration—grouping employee desks close together so they could more easily work with one another. But the need for social distancing is likely to continue for some time, meaning that office floor plans will need to change, implementing new furniture layouts and designs. For example, offices with rows of desks facing one another will need to either rearrange their setup or install barriers or privacy screens between desks.
New and more spaces for receiving office visitors may be necessary as well, such as common meeting rooms that are sufficiently disinfected between meetings. Facility managers might consider offering these spaces (with proper disinfection protocols) along with other amenities to help minimise the risk of infection while also providing businesses the tools they need to safely do their work.
In general, we expect to see many businesses using less office space and expecting better, more frequent cleaning, as well as clear protocols and policies regarding health and wellness.
Taking the Stairs
Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, none of us thought twice about piling into an elevator to get where we needed to go within a building. But with health protocols advising that we avoid being in small enclosed spaces with others, facility managers will need to figure out how to make taking the stairs easier and more accessible for more of their tenants.
Clear directions and updated signage will be key to encouraging more occupants to use the stairs, including adding directions via stairwells to building maps rather than pointing everyone to the elevator. For further health safety, managers should also consider designating certain stairwells as entrance and others as egress wherever possible, to cut down on occupants passing in close contact to one another.
Taking the stairs won’t be an option for those in wheelchairs or with health issues that prevent them from climbing flights of stairs, so elevators will need to remain in use for those who need them. But for others, using the stairs could not only be a way to prevent infection, but also a way to get a boost of exercise, further encouraging good physical health. This could be beneficial to businesses in more than one way, as workplaces that prioritise health and wellness will be more attractive to the best talent. Safe, healthy working environments lead to better retention, higher efficiency, and, in the end, bigger profits.
Providing Sufficient Signage
In addition to reconfiguring facility layouts, providing sufficient signage will be a crucial aspect of creating a safe and healthy workspace, and it doesn’t stop at directing people to use the stairs. Highly visible signage placed conspicuously throughout the building will be vital to alerting those who enter about the necessary precautions they should adhere too while in the building.
Signage should address three main concerns:
Expectations for Conduct: Signage should instruct those who are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or who have been exposed to confirmed cases not to enter the space. It should direct them to the CDC’s recommendations for testing and quarantining.Hygiene Protocols: Signs should also be placed around the building instructing occupants of proper preventative hygiene including hand washing, using hand sanitizer, covering coughs and sneezes, wearing masks, wiping down workstations, and more.Social Distancing: Signage reminding occupants of the need for social distancing is important as well. Signs should enforce the CDC’s recommendations of maintaining a distance of at least 6 feet from others and using masks when this isn’t possible.
Sufficient signage not only offers important instruction, but also helps employees feel safer in their work environment. Especially for those who are hesitant to come back to the office, having this signage in place—with the proper protocols to back it up—will provide assurance that the property managers take their health and welfare seriously and are committed to keeping them safe at work.