The workplace is where we spend more of our lives than anywhere else. The spaces where we share ideas and build relationships. The environment where we reach to achieve goals larger than ourselves: together. The single most important thing I want to share with you is the workplace has a place in the future.
But returning to the workplace will require regaining trust. Each and every person has been affected by this pandemic to a different degree. Employee expectations will vary person to person.
I don’t know how your company has been affected by Covid but many return to work with a different number of employees. Some may have changed their plans for expansion or growth. Some are going to have new WFH policies or different teams utilizing the space. The workplace as a whole is no longer functional post Covid because the space was designed to operate under different pretenses.
It’s safe to say we are all a bit more germ sensitive right now. In the office, some may want to hold doors or leave them propped open so others don’t need to grab the handle but this causes security risks, heating and cooling loss, and increased sound transmission. There are a few ways we can address this. First is our temporary fixes where applicable.
Which brings the conversation to, what parts of the building should users even operate? If we begin to look at fixtures and equipment that currently exist that we don’t have to physically operate, we’ll see things like: Automatic flushing toilets, automatic sinks, hand dryers, coffee machines, light switches, automatic building shades. There are ways that we can make a smarter, more efficient building - simply by installing or upgrading to the current technology.
These solutions not only address improving sanitization but they’re better for all parties. Let’s look at the impact of a hand dryer. By upgrading a hand dryer we now don't have to buy hand towels each month, we aren’t paying someone to empty that waste basket, and we are even producing less waste.
You don’t need me to tell you to buy hand sanitizer for the temporary future. We are all aware we will need hand sanitizer stations for the temporary. Maybe even like an exit sign, you'll want them in sight from anywhere in the space. However, simply placing hand sanitizer stations around the office isn’t actually going to convey to employees that their safety is valued.
When I think of good sanitization culture, I actually think of the gym that I go to. That might sound odd as a gym is a place of constant sweating and everything is a common touch surface. But, I think the gym is a good example because of the sanitization culture that everyone adheres to. We’ve all seen the signs, wipe your bench down after using, place your weights on the rack when finished... sure enough people do it. For the temporary time we will need to increase the sanitization of space and taking some cues from our fitness centers are a great place to start. Switching to waste bins with attached sanitary wipes, we can encourage employees to wipe down their desk when leaving for the day. It’s a way to start to create a new social etiquette standard.
Temporary signage was the first standard change we really saw across all essential businesses. No matter where you go there is some sort of sticker or marker to keep people six feet apart. These signs will need to be implemented for the temporary future, it’s important to consider how invasive these markers will be to the office aesthetic. We want to clearly enforce social distancing without making the office feel they are surrounded by a roadwork detour of cones and signs. Signage can be done in a less impeding way and we want to make sure the work environment isn’t enveloped in caution tape. Outside of temporary signage we must consider new procedural signage. Things such as dated last cleaned signs in common areas like pantries.
In 1974 a young girl with measles went to school in upstate New York. 97% of her classmates were vaccinated, 28 ended up contracting the disease. The infected students were spread out across 14 classrooms. Some of these students had never even seen the girl, much less interacted with her. The culprit? The ventilation system. It was running the economizer cycle, also known as free cooling. This recycles air back into the space, which is great from an energy perspective but bad from a sanitization perspective.
The single most effective thing I can recommend to reduce the spread of Covid, and sickness in general, is to improve indoor air quality. Adjusting maintenance schedules to replace air filters more often and maintaining proper humidity to decrease pathogens are a few actionable ways we can begin to address improved indoor air quality.
The layout of the workplace will be the most severely impacted in both the temporary and long term. The first hurdle we have to reconcile is that the workspace we left in March cannot and will not perform as it was designed to. Conference rooms now hold less people, large furniture like couches will have restricted usage, while other furniture will be removed entirely. We put large amounts of money and effort into making the workplace an environment people want to be in. Even under temporary conditions we make sure employees are not returning to a disjointed haphazard space. A half clutter half empty space wrapped in caution tape isn’t the place where employees want to return to, and will surely not inspire them.
Desk layouts will have to adapt utilizing the existing power locations. What once was lounge space may be standing meeting space. From furniture to built solutions, this is something that needs to be tailored to each office and business.
Working from home has been in this pseudo taboo realm where some companies employ it occasionally and others bar it completely. Now that we’ve all been forced to do so, leaders are starting to re-evaluate. Gartner CFO survey said 75% of CFO’s intend to shift some employees to remote work permanently. Reducing the cost of rent and offering flexibility to employees are a few advantages.
Companies that weren't employing these policies at the start of the covid outbreak had a rude awakening. From shortages to keyboards to slow servers, it became apparent that if we expect employees to work successfully at home they need to have the proper environment and tools.
If working from home is something you plan on utilizing then its worth considering what level of WFH setup will be provided to employees. From desks and chairs, to required technology and software, we want to create an environment where productivity and inspiration want to occur. Workplace design follows where it’s done.
I’ve touched on this in a few of the previous sections but a lot of the changes we are making to our workplace are actually executed through changing our operations and creating a new culture. Last week I went to visit a job site and some people wanted to bump elbows as a greeting and some people wanted to keep their distance. The first day back in the office is going to feel somewhat awkward as we begin to navigate acceptable boundaries between our colleagues. Operational shifts might look like changing open fruit baskets in the pantry areas to prepackaged foods for the temporary. Every company culture is different and each will want to establish a bar of what's acceptable.
It will be interesting to see how workplace design is going to evolve to meet the changing expectations of what is demanded from it. I don’t believe office space will move towards mimicking a hospital but I do think the status quo of health and wellness will improve. Whether it’s fire life safety or ADA accessibility we create space held to a standard for the public. I believe it’s up to architects to demand a higher level of expectation of building standards, to progress the quality of the spaces we create, and to progress the lives that work in them.
The workplace will always go through new trends and changes but at the end of the day we want to be in a space that inspires us and builds a community. Community is something that is more important now than ever, and we hope we’ve given you something to take back to your community.
At X3 Builders we offer both design and construction services to help you find what solution works for your business and then smoothly implement them. If you're interested, reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.