5 Ways COVID-19 Changed Our Office Space For (the) Good.
COVID-19 Changed Our Office Space For the Good
It isn’t easy to find any positives or any silver linings of COVID-19. It is easier to harp on the devastation, the loss of life, the closing of businesses, and fret about our collective uncertainty. However, like all disasters, natural or humanmade, our world always (eventually) is left healthier. The reason is we do learn from our mistakes, even if it seems we keep taking steps backward. We, humans, are exceptional innovators, and we adapt because of our behavior changes. So, yes, COVID-19 has and will continue to make our office spaces better, safer, and more productive. Here is how:
Employee Behavioral Changes
It’s been nearly a year since COVID-19 has forced many businesses to shut down their offices and transition to flexible work. During that time, employees’ behaviors have changed to the point that going back to “normal” doesn’t seem possible nor make sense. Our world and how we work are different now. Businesses need to adapt to these behavioral changes and not expect everything will go back to normal because the trauma we collectively went through has changed us. Our office spaces will need to:
- Continually be clean and disinfected not just from protection from COVID-19 but all future pathogens. By learning how COVID-19 is transmitted, we also learned how all other pathogens spread. For example, employees will be more attuned to how the flu spreads next flu season. Employees will expect safe and clean offices, including self-cleaning surfaces such as nanoSeptic or disposable paper, access to hand sanitizers, disinfecting wipes and masks, and proof of an exceptional cleaning crew. Read: How To Clean and Disinfect Your Office Space.
- Update their ventilation to ensure pathogens are being filtered as much as possible. The New York Times published a fantastic data visualization, “What Happens to Viral Particles on the Subway,” that explains why ventilation is crucial, noting that “masks and social distancing are essential, but good airflow is also key to reducing the risk of exposure to the coronavirus.” They note how the subway’s ventilation system “moves air within cars more efficiently than restaurants, schools, and other indoor settings.” Employees expect better ventilation as well as opened windows to ensure their safety. Read 5 Office HVAC Solutions To Comply With State COVID-19 Regulations.
- Allow for flexible work to ensure positive employee morale and overall productivity. Many employees have gotten used to working from home, and although most want to return to the office, it may not be practical for everyone due to child and elderly care issues. Additionally, some people may be more productive at home as they can focus on their mental and physical wellness. Each of us is more attuned to our health and wellness, and for many, we do not want to go back but instead move forward with what we have learned over the past year. Office spaces will need to accommodate those who work out of the office at times. Including floating desks, more shared spaces, smaller conference rooms, technology that makes the transition from home to office seamless, and office spaces that provide safe spaces.
Well before COVID-19, businesses were realizing they needed better communication coming out of their C-suites. “Transparency” became a buzzword so overused you will find it in every company’s manifesto and mission, HR manual, or sales decks. Many businesses decided to do away with closed doors and opaque conference rooms and opted for open floor plans to project “transparency.” Companies who established intranets, virtual collaboration suites, and secure remote access to foster better communication throughout the office were better positioned when COVID-19 forced many businesses into remote/flexible work. Many companies, for the first time, started to see the importance of internal communication.
Communication is always the key to success, but too often, business owners and decision-makers gloss over the importance of it. NOT ANYMORE! Office spaces will:
- Accommodate employees with new communication technologies, including hardware, collaboration suites, and streaming apps. Businesses will continue to find secure and safe solutions to accommodate employees when working from home and working in the office. If an employee needs to work from home one day, businesses will be prepared to ensure no drop in collaboration or productivity. Read more: “6 Office Tech Solutions for Reopening During COVID-19.”
- Continue the use of physical signage. As employees have been returning to their offices, they are noticing signage to help them social distance. Signage is not new. Offices have been installing signage to help educate and motivate employees as well as parlay their branding. Furthermore, a social media trend throughout the pandemic has been the use of quotes and words. Offices spaces will adapt and double down to ensure their employees feel safe, comfortable, and motivated while at the office.
In some cases improving your office’s communication will include adjusting your office’s layout and design. Moving forward, businesses will use design to ensure employees feel safe in and out of their post-COVID-19 office spaces. The evolution to accommodate flexible work isn’t new. It is one we predict will continue to change our office spaces after the COVID-19 pandemic, but COVID-19 has created the need for a faster than anticipated transformation for all our offices to support working from home, social distancing, and providing cleaner and more efficient workspaces. Earlier this year, we partnered with our trusted friends at New York-based Schrimmer Design Group and Toronto-based Lebel & Bouliane to give guidance and help you rethink your office spaces through both forward-looking (big ideas) and simple (and inexpensive) ways to protect your office and your employees from current and future pathogens and help them feel safe coming back to the office. Full post here: 6 Office Design trends In Post-Covid-19 World.
Design trends we see include:
- Workstations that prioritize physical distancing that includes new layouts and traffic flows.
- Open floorplans with green spaces aren’t bad and are better with the right ventilation and are not going anywhere. “The trend to healthier and greener interior spaces will continue. For many of our office interior projects, we include a landscape consultant …. incorporating plants and green walls into all our spaces allows for connection to the natural world, calm, as well they practically deal with cleaning and filtering the air. Also, with more open collaboration (and frankly talking 6′ apart…) will increase the need for better acoustically performing spaces, so more attention to acoustic materials and design will be key.”
- A heightened focus on furniture, appliance, and finishes.
- Smaller conference rooms to allow for collaboration.
- Office transparency
- Embracing the unconventional, such as moving your office into retail spaces or an abandoned beer brewery.
Small Office Updates Make A Huge Difference
Not all changes need to cost an arm and a leg. There are simple, practical, and cost-effective ways offices can offer their employees a sense of security as they return to the office. They include:
- Installing self-cleaning surfaces. Companies like nonSeptic sell affordable skins and mats that continuously self-clean surfaces that you install on high traffic public touchpoints like door handles and elevator buttons.
- Offer disposable and recycle placemats. An employee can be great every morning with a large piece of paper that they can place at their workstation. The employee can dispose of that paper at the end of the day, making cleaning crews easier to clean your office space. Offering disposable placemats may work best in offices with communal workstations where employees may not have a dedicated desk but work from a table or a counter.
- Increase the availability of disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizers, and PPE. Employees will feel safer in an office where they have easy access to disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizers, and masks. If you can, you may want to invest in enough to give each employee their wipes, hand sanitizers, and masks. You can brand these items with your company’s logo with promotional marketing agencies like Zagwear, Vistaprint, and CustomInk.
- Open windows (if you can). As we note above, ventilation is vital in helping curb the spread of COVID-19. Pathogens can quickly spread through HVAC systems. Opening up windows could promptly improve your office’s ventilation. However, we understand we are heading into summer, and many offices will need A/C to ensure their employees are comfortable. In this case, you can invest in an office climate control system or purchase air purifiers – although the more massive the office space, the less a typical air purifier can help.
- Provide office supplies to each employee. If you can, invest in more office supplies so employees can have their own and not share. For instance, if you are a creative agency, it would be a great idea to get everyone their own set of whiteboard markers and erasers. The same goes for computers, maybe the most efficient thing to do in the long run is to give every employee their laptop to use it in the office, and at home that they are responsible for cleaning. Think about all the supplies in your office that people share and see if you can limit the need to share those supplies.
Health + Wellness
We allude to this above in large part because “Health + Wellness” has been an office trend long before COVID-19 ravaged our world, and the adjustment we make in our office spaces must keep our mental and physical health a priority. According to the World Health Organization,
- Work is good for mental health, but a hostile working environment can lead to physical and mental health problems.
- Depression and anxiety have a significant economic impact; the estimated cost to the global economy is US$ 1 trillion per year in lost productivity.
- Harassment and bullying at work are commonly reported problems and can have a substantial adverse impact on mental health.
- There are many effective actions that organizations can take to promote mental health in the workplace; such actions may also benefit productivity.
- For every US$ 1 put into scaled-up treatment for common mental disorders, there is a return of US$ 4 in improved health and productivity.
It is good business to invest in improving your office space to accommodate your employee’s mental health and wellbeing. Here are some reasonable adjustments, according to The Mental Health Foundation:
- Changing a person’s working pattern to enable them to start later or finish earlier because of the side effects of medication, or allowing them to travel the night before meetings and stay over to avoid early morning travel.
- Providing a person with a laptop, remote access software, and permission to work at home on set days, or flexibly according to the severity of their symptoms (within a monthly limit).
- Excusing someone from attending work functions and client events involving food instead of allowing them to set up alternative networking arrangements that achieve similar business returns.
For more information and resources on Mental Health, please check out The Mental Health Coalition.