The events of 2020 had a big impact on the business world. Every employer who was able sent their employees home with laptops to work from remote safety. But not all jobs, even office jobs, can be done at home. Some data is too sensitive to transfer. Some jobs control on-site equipment and operations. In many cases, on-site employees are needed to facilitate everyone else working at home.
The pandemic hasn’t gone, but we as humans are always ready to adapt. With the initial shock and emergency responses behind us, we as humans are doing what we do best: adapting. For employers, the challenging task is to recreate the office workplace in a way that is virally safe for on-site employees to return to the job. We have already seen some developments of this trend as companies all over the world try new office designs for exactly this purpose.
Let’s take a closer look at how office life is transforming in the post-COVID workplace and how your office can adapt to safely welcome back employees who must or wish to return from home working.
Emptier Offices – Essential On-Site Workers Only
The single biggest change that we are all embracing is emptier office space. The forced push to remote work caused many employers to accept that much of today’s cloud-based job tasks can indeed be done from home. With a high risk of viral spread, we’re encouraging most of the workforce to continue working from home. Only those essential and those eager to join new-normal efforts need to come into the office at all.
So those that are in the office will have much more space per-person comparatively – which is good because it allows us to use that space to reinforce the 6+ foot safety zone around each workspace and person.
Expect to see and construct more than a few sanitisation stations. The first concern of COVID transmission started with people coming into physical contact with the virus particles – especially when passing between surfaces and employee hands. So provide stations all over the office and site featuring hand sanitiser or a hand-washing sink. In addition, we advise also providing a lotion dispenser, as constant hand washing can cause painfully cracked and dry skin.
Minimise Shared Airspace at All Times
The highest rate of COVID transmission is airborne. This means that co-workers sharing air-space is the big risk when working with or without masks. For this reason, every aspect of your new office design should reflect maximising space between people and – most importantly – minimising shared airspace.
For example, do not place workstations across a table from each other or desks facing each other – as this directs employee breath onto one-another. Spread workstations further apart and prioritise keeping on-site employees in different well-ventilated rooms.
Video Conferencing for On-Site and Off-Site Meetings
Video conferences quickly stepped up to replace the common business meeting with co-workers, superiors, and clients alike. In the new post-COVID workspace, expect to see video conferencing even when two people are able to meet in the same room. When everyone has their own protected workspace, it will still be safer for two + on-site employees to meet virtually instead of face-to-face.
This trend is likely to settle in and stay in place because virtual meetings are also more inclusive for mixed teams, including both in-office and remote members.
Personal Workstations Get Bigger & Shielded
Over the last few decades, office desks have become smaller as our devices have become more efficient. The large traditional writing desk wasn’t necessary when our work stopped consisting of paperwork or enormous old computer equipment. However, we expect to see a return of the larger desk design in the near future. Bigger desks mean an easier time keeping everyone well-spaced and socially distant from each other while still creating a compact and efficient workplace.
Shielding is also no joke when it comes to new desk designs for safety. In desks designed to hold meetings, we expect to see a rising trend in portable sneeze-guards that can be put in place when having an office meeting with clients or co-workers.
Self-Cleaning Surface Solutions
Keeping surfaces clean has become a necessary obsession of the post-COVID work world. High-touch areas like door handles, railings, and countertops are all at risk of spreading the virus. one person sneezes or touches a surface after coughing into their hand and the surface becomes a hotbed for infection. Fortunately, there are solutions.
A self-cleaning surface includes elements that have a slight electrical charge and microorganisms like bacteria and virus particles. Anything made of copper or silver, for example, has some antimicrobial properties. In addition, artificial sleeves and covers are being made so you can make any high-touch surface more resistant.
In addition, we expect to see more innovation in automated sanitation. Small dispensers that spray or disperse sanitising solution can help to kill viruses more thoroughly. These dispensers can be activated at set periods or automatically after every use.
Increased Focus on Air-Purifying HVAC – Building-Wide and Individual Spaces
Creating space between employees can reduce airborne transmission, but micro-particles of the virus can also hang in the air for up to 4 hours. The answer to this problem is more directed HVAC. Good ventilation, even in the form of open windows, can significantly reduce the risk of airborne transmission. Localised air purifiers or vents connected to air purification are the best way to quickly clear the air of any lingering particles in any part of the office.
If your building’s HVAC isn’t up to the job, local air purifiers plugged in like a space heater in each workspace or office can achieve the same effect or better.
Sealed Storage & Individually Packaged Supplies
Before the pandemic, we were seeing a trend toward ‘green’ and more communal office life. Shared healthy lunches, for example, were the hot wellness thing for friendly workspaces. This, understandably, has changed. Keeping shared supplies tucked into sealed drawers is now better because shared supplies will be minimally exposed to potential infection.
In addition, individual packaging is back. We’re still trying to go green, but employees will feel a lot better about both using tools and eating lunch at work when everything they handle is individually wrapped instead of communally shared.
We expect to see hospital-like advances in non-medical workspaces – sanitising and re-packaging supplies between uses instead of resorting to disposable supplies.
Personal Offices & Small Conference Rooms Become the Norm
Open office designs were the hot architectural trend before the pandemic, but as the science came in we found that these designs are more beautiful than they are productive. As we move toward viral-safe workspace design, we expect to see more private spaces.
With fewer people in the office, there’s more space to give each person their own private office space. In many workplaces, it will be both safer and more efficient to air-purify smaller occupied spaces – meaning personal offices instead of open workspaces. Also, one person’s office can become immune-isolated, reducing the risk that anyone who comes into work unknowingly pre-symptomatic will not infect their nearby co-workers.
We also expect to see a rise in small conference rooms where smaller groups of people might meet face-to-face but avoiding the large-table gatherings. For offices that want to keep their open plan and large rooms, it will become vital to prioritise constant powerful ventilation and air purification.
Outdoor Workspaces Increase in Popularity
Last but not least, the outdoor workspace trend is experiencing a renaissance. Before COVID, outdoor workspaces were a novelty idea for trendy green businesses to provide a little relaxation to hard-working employees. Landscaped exteriors with hidden power outlets and shady ergonomic seating were a millennial-targeted workplace perk.
Now, being outdoors is the safest place to be, with nature’s natural ventilation constantly cycling the air for free. Outdoor workspaces are now both practical and extremely COVID-safe. With good weather and/or greenhouse roofing, this has a high potential as the hot new way to invite on-site employees to work in enjoyable viral safety.
The pandemic sent everyone home in a rush, but the business world can’t continue in a stop-gap state. As we reopen workplaces and bring essential teams back to the office, we also need to think carefully about the office environments we create. Make use of the additional space created by the many people still working at home. Prioritize the viral safety and practical comfort of your on-site staff in how you redesign the office and rebuild your post-COVID workflows. For more discussion on adapting to the new normal or to consult on office sanitation services, contact us today!