earing a mask isn’t a strategy, it’s a tactic.
Businesses by their very existence are resilient. They are built and trained to respond to ever changing demands from the market and, more importantly, their customers. If they don’t, they are likely to be replaced by someone who does this better.
This pandemic, however, has presented new challenges unlike the typical “creative destruction” we’ve been used to. One of the biggest hurdles wasn’t just responding to what their customers thought and felt; rather, it was a stakeholder many take for granted - the employee. Many employees are justifiably afraid to return to work until the environment becomes safer and easier to return to.
Unfortunately, employees will continue to face this challenging environment for many more months, despite the heroic efforts from pharmaceutical companies, and increasing evidence points to a future state where not enough individuals will take the vaccine when first available. This begs two overarching questions for the workplace:
- How does the office operate in 2021?
- What can we do differently if a pandemic kicks back up in future years?
The strategies most businesses employed in the past nine months were passive in nature - wash hands, wear masks, WFH, and stay socially distant. All helpful tactics, yet they don’t address the root issues in the environment during the inevitable time next year when employees return to their office.
The boring fact is that we are combatting an airborne virus and few organizations have taken steps to clean the air. Efforts must be made to capture the airborne virus and eliminate the virus during this Defend stage. The benefit for a company is twofold - providing employees further protection by cleaning the air while assuring employees and customers alike that active steps are being taken.
Masks and social distancing give individuals passive protection in a workplace but improving air quality actually makes an office safer. Similar to how car airbags reduce injuries during accident, when what you’d really prefer is the automatic collision braking to avoid the accident all together.
Active remedies for this virus are few, but important. Medical grade air purification devices not only capture viruses with a combination of HEPA-Rx and carbon filters but also employ high-intensity UV light and other methods to destroy them once captured. Linked is one such device that is a cost-effective solution for treating key areas like conference rooms, open plan areas, etc. Employees want the best defense possible at the workplace and this step is vital to developing that employee-employer trust. Employee wellness must be the focus of workplace design moving forward.
I mentioned earlier that businesses typically are resilient. Adapt is the second leg of COVID workplace strategy. Most firms have already adopted a WFH or hybrid work model, a blunt but effective medium-term strategy for certain businesses. This path requires total workplace agility and could beget many more people asking for better separation at work moving forward. Already, Workscape has seen many firms have added privacy panels and cubicle height adapters to their workplace to accommodate this. Furthermore, some employees truly do not need to return to the office other than the occasional meeting or two. Home office stations should have the same level of amenities and quality that employees expect from the workplace to enhance productivity.
Additionally, the trend over the past 7-10 years has been a decreasing number of private offices, so much so that it is common to see 90% of the workforce in some sort of open-plan environment. Mid-level managers are especially interested in regaining some private space for one-on-one meetings and as a perk for their seniority.
What is old is new once more, as the office may once again be an important part of recruitment for certain positions and industries. While this trend may not last forever (hence the word trend), modular construction can allow for rapid office plan changes both now and in the future. Pre-fab interior construction also allows for rapid deployment with minimal disruption to the workspace. Construkt is Western PA and West Virginia’s DIRTT dealer, North America's largest provide of pre-fab interior construction solutions.
The last leg of the strategy is to Partner. Obviously, much as changed in 2020,especially the old processes of how to acquire, design and, outfit a space. Now more than ever, companies must build a strong, collaborative team early in process to make sure safety, wellness, and cost consideration are all simultaneously addressed.
At a minimum, a good architectural/design firm, a progressive real estate brokerage firm, and a service-centric furniture dealership should be the core of that team. Businesses can no longer look at design, office space, and furnishing as separate silos to be purchased independently of one another. Partnering early on with all three counterparties can vastly improve the end workplace while saving time and money, yet many are unfamiliar with this path.
Established protocols no longer makes sense today, as the old model’s linear path required significant time with little chance for changes once the process starts. By partnering over purchasing and negotiating instead of bidding, a company will realize results faster, more thoughtfully, and less expensively.