The modern workplace has been going through quite a transitionary period and leaders have been intercepting a variety of challenges since the Covid-19 pandemic began. While some businesses are feeling a little more settled by now, companies are still trying to figure out a new normal and find the best way for their employees to be as safe and productive as possible.
Health and wellness in the workplace have been making headlines and employers have been doing what they can to combat the anxiety that comes with working during a health crisis. Companies are looking twice at design norms such as open floor plans, collaborative rooms, team-based workspaces, and flexibility, and mobility within the office.
When it comes to responding to Covid-19 in the workplace, there are a variety of design directions that can allow your company to continue to be productive and successful, while keeping your people safe and happy at the same time.
Take advantage of antimicrobial properties
Antimicrobial fabrics are designed to keep bacteria, fungi, and viruses from living in the fabric. While some antimicrobial fabrics slow or stop the spread of germs, others can actually kill a percentage of the germs present. While it’s not a substitute for good hygiene and social distancing, some organizations are finding it beneficial to utilize the antimicrobial fabrics (that are normally in healthcare environments) in their office spaces as an extra protective measure. Antimicrobial technology can be implemented in interior design elements such as paint, window coverings, chairs, and flooring.
Install contactless technology systems
It has already become quickly ingrained in us to limit touch and contact in public places such as the bank or grocery store, but what about at the workplace? How often do your employees utilize touch during the day such as opening the door to work or pouring their morning coffee? Touch-free sensors that assist with toilets and faucets are already fairly common in workplace restrooms, but with workplace health and safety intensified, automation and voice activation is starting to be utilized for other highly-touched areas such as water dispensers, window shades, entrances/exits, and lighting systems.
Make space for remote workers
Many employers are experiencing the highest volume of remote workers in their company’s history. While remote work has now become “the norm” for many organizations, leaders are still deciding how to offer their employees desk space in the office when they come in, while understanding that permanent desks may not be a necessity at the moment. How you implement your remote workers in your design decisions will contribute to inclusivity factors and also keep them from piling all of their stuff in the conference room when they arrive.
Reconsider the open plan
While much of modern office design has been about breaking down barriers and eliminating isolated and/or hierarchical design, Covid-19 has some employers thinking of moving back to a more separated environment. While plexiglass barriers are an effective way to promote healthy separation, a reconfiguration of your layout might be a better (and more comfortable) option. Creating separate office spaces that house fewer employees in one room might better support your employees’ health and professional goals at this time. You also might need more rooms for private video conferencing in order to keep up with your interactions between clients and remote workers.
Rethink all of those dedicated desks
Office desks have historically shrunk to fit more people in the workspace, but the trend is heading in the other direction now. To keep space between employees, without it looking empty or awkward, employers are opting for larger desks that take up more room. With the unique combination of remote and permanent workers, flexible desk spaces are going to become more popular, instead of traditional dedicated desks. The idea is that with employees coming and going, and companies operating at less than 50% capacity, having flexible desk spaces (with deep cleaning every night) might make more sense for your company at this time.
Promote social distancing
Social distancing in the workplace is a hot topic and you’ve probably seen images on social media of employees dragging their desks apart or leaders reconfiguring their offices to give more space to their people. Other design elements such as capacity signage (how many people can be in the elevator), room reservation sign-ups (no last-minute collaborative drop-ins), and customized carpet design (that cleverly draws out where you should stand and walk) could become a normal part of promoting health and wellness in the workplace through interior design.
There are many unique and aesthetically pleasing design changes that you can make to ensure that your office space is responding appropriately to the needs of our current health pandemic. How long will this last? Will this permanently change our view of workplace culture?
No one is for sure about what will happen next month or even next year, but what is certain is that it’s time for offices to start adapting to meet the health needs of their people and the culture shift of the world.