Office planning in the age of pandemics - how to promote a safe and healthy environment for your workers.
We see a paradigm shift in work environments due to the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Returning to business as usual is not an option, but there is opportunity to learn and improve our office spaces as we move into the future.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created our heightened awareness regarding viruses and how they spread. It is inevitable that offices and the way we work within these spaces should protect workers while promoting collaboration.
Prior to the pandemic, sources show that only 3.6% of Americans worked from home, but during our stay at home orders in the spring of 2020, economists estimated that 37% of Americans who previously commuted could plausibly work from home. * (according to the University of Chicago Occupational Information Network).
Why Return to the Office?
Although working from home can have intangible benefits, in general people are social animals that thrive on human interaction. We have a desire to connect face-to-face, because it establishes bonds and trust between us. It is also easier to communicate and collaborate together when we share communal spaces rather than sharing awkward zoom meetings and conference calls. The ability to sit down together and review our work side-by-side has an emotional benefit for workers and clients alike.
Part of our coming together is to support one another, thereby sharing our common beliefs and values brought forth by our company and our employees. We have a clearer vision to where we're headed when we create our work product together rather than in independent silos.
How to keep Employees Safe
Employees are the core of any business, and they must feel safe and productive in their workplace. Knowing that this most recent pandemic may be one of possibly others to come, it is important to plan our workplaces so our futures are more secure. If we transition our building designs now to support a different planning model based on disease control, we can hope to avoid painful business disruptions and loss of worker productivity.
While employees should tailor policies for employee behavior per CDC guidelines for your specific business, we can recommend some general physical modifications for offices to ensure employees' safety and well-being.
Small changes can be made to existing spaces, and future planning can easily incorporate some of these suggested ideas:
Have supplies of masks, gloves, and such items as alcohol wipes at shared office areas and equipment such as copiers, filing cabinets and reception spaces.
Post signage reminding workers to limit the number of persons in shared common areas such as kitchenettes and toilet rooms is helpful.
Rearrange furniture so that employees face the same direction while seated rather than face-to-face also helps to inhibit disease.
Set-up hand sanitizing stations throughout the office.
Provide workstations and open office areas where furnishings are respecting 6 foot social distancing.
One directional circulation paths are helpful in open office areas.
Keep workstation surfaces clean of clutter so they can be regularly wiped down.
A few last things...
Health agencies have so far identified respiratory-droplet contact as the major mode of COVID-19 transmission. Sufficient ventilation in the places people visit and work is very important. Proper ventilation—such as forcing air toward the ceiling and pumping it outside, or bringing fresh air into a room—dilutes the amount of virus in a space, lowering the risk of infection.
Lastly, CDC guidelines for employers whose workers are returning to work include replacing communal snacks, water coolers and coffee pots with prepacked, single-serve items, and erecting plastic partitions between desks closer than 6 feet apart.