Making your workplace safe post COVID-19 The COVID secure office – how to do it and how we can help you

 

 

Most companies have been closed since widespread limits on everyday life were imposed on 24 March in a bid to limit the effects of the Coronavirus spread on the NHS.

The government’s repetitive message to stay at home to protect the NHS and save lives was largely effective. However now, while the UK prepares to ease anti-coronavirus restrictions and open workplaces, albeit tentatively, changing the record will be difficult.

Reopening the economy and encouraging staff back into the workplace must be done carefully and expert guidance is advised. Workers must feel they are safe. Companies must be confident they will not be sued if they get it wrong, and consumers must be confident enough to spend money.

Cushman & Wakefield is converting an office in Amsterdam into the “6 Feet Office”, a living laboratory that is acting as a guide for workplace operators wishing to make their offices safe.

There are five main categories of changes that should be made to prepare your office – and your people – for a return to the workplace. Some changes will be relatively simple, speedy to implement and inexpensive, while others could be more far-reaching. These five categories of change are:

  • Office design
  • Technology
  • Behavioural changes
  • Enhanced cleaning
  • Communication

For decades, Ben Johnson Interiors has been designing and fitting up-to-the-minute workplaces that enhance productivity and staff wellbeing. During lockdown, the company’s management has been very busy researching the relevant, necessary changes that need to be made in the workplace and sourcing the most efficient and effective products and solutions. The company’s post-COVID office experts can now guide and advise you through each stage, source the best products and fit out your workplace ready to face the future safely in a post-COVID world.

Screens for reception desks can be quickly installed by Ben Johnson Interiors

 

1 Office design

Open plan offices now present social distancing challenges as people are often moving freely around working areas and sitting less than six feet apart with no protective screens between them.

Simple innovations will be stickers on floors and desks to enforce six feet of distance between co-workers. A one-way or zig-zag system around the workplace could also be introduced, to ensure staff keep their distance. Signage around the office should be placed to remind employees to follow social distancing protocols.

Fresh, natural air and windows that open will become increasingly important to maintain a healthy workspace.

Many companies are considering just using every other desk or putting up dividers and screens between desks and will ask workers to use disposable desk covers. Workplace furniture companies have introduced a new wide range of personnel protection screens to suit all types of working.

Open plan offices can easily be converted into modular, low cost, cubicle-filled spaces, reminiscent of the 1960s. This looks likely to be extremely popular post-COVID.

Shared spaces, such as breakout areas and meeting rooms are potential hotspots for disease transmission and may will need to be redesigned to allow for social distancing or converted into offices. Many workplaces – and Ben Johnson workspaces in particular – have been specifically designed to be agile and flexible so that modifications to design can be relatively simple and quick to implement.

Initially, only essential employees may be asked back into the workplace, or a shift system will be implemented over seven days, to free up space.

Ben Johnson Interiors carries out office fit-outs – space planning and full interior design in workplaces and so can quickly implement new office layouts and signage, build cubicles and partitions, erect appropriate screening in an open plan office or design a complete “post-COVID” refurbishment of your existing space.

Ben Johnson Interiors’ designed and fitted partitioning solutions

 

2 Technology

Some companies are looking at high-tech approaches to enforce social distancing with location-monitoring apps and badges, artificial intelligence surveillance cameras and high-tech health checks.

Technology that tracks space utilisation can also give information on social distancing protocols.

SmartVid which makes AI surveillance systems for identifying unsafe conditions at construction sites has recently developed new software to warn managers when workers fail to maintain safe distances from each other. The company is now working on an upgrade which will detect whether workers are wearing masks.

The consulting firm PwC has developed a contact tracing tool for office buildings and Appian, which makes apps for workforce management, recently developed an app which regularly monitors workers’ health and risk through questionnaires and then determines who should come into an office.

Companies will be looking for hardware that replaces ID cards with facial recognition, as well as lifts and doors that can be operated without contact – via smartphones. Blinds, lighting, ventilation and even ordering a coffee could be controlled by our smartphones Other measures already introduced in many workplaces could include sensor-activated taps and soap dispensers. With 80% of infections transmitted via touching contaminated surfaces, a hands-free future could become the norm.

High tech air pressurization can also prevent against cross contamination. The design of HVAC air conditioning systems will be of increasing importance in the aftermath of the pandemic. There are various ways of using HVAC systems to help prevent infection spread. Air that fills our indoor spaces can be diluted with outdoor air, decreasing the risk of breathing infected air. It can also be filtrated to removed contaminates, preventing them from being recycled in an indoor environment.

Ben Johnson Interiors has incorporated many of the above systems into workplaces already and is well placed to advise, source and install.

 

Contact tracing technology is already in use by numerous companies

HVAC air-conditioning may help containment (pic via FMJ)

3 Enhanced cleaning

A return to the workplace will mean that organisations will need to increase cleaning measures and employee accessibility to numerous anti-bacterial hand gel dispensers – sensor activated and positioned around offices.

Desk materials should contain anti-bacterial properties that are easy to clean and maintain. Baseless monitor mounts are advised for less bacteria traps. Clear desk policies should be introduced for quicker and easier cleaning.

In terms of fabrics and materials, our workplace designers are now looking for smooth surfaces without patterns or ridges, that are easy to clean. There will be more use of laminates and high tech carpets which are less likely to harbour dust and germs. Fabrics used for curtains, blinds, walls and even ceiling tiles will be similarly practical.

Silver and copper are two materials with anti-microbial properties that many manufacturers are now using to treat surfaces. They can be woven into fabrics used to upholster chairs and other furniture. Plastic countertops and light switches can also incorporate silver and copper. Surfaces made of steel or aluminium can have these anti-microbial materials applied to the finished product as a protective coating. Good office cleaning companies will be highly in demand as workplace hygiene becomes of the utmost importance.

 

Smooth surfaces, clear desks and cubicles will be making a come-back

Hand sanitizers should be installed throughout

4 Behavioural Change

A key challenge will be balancing the new safety measures with opportunities for productive interactions.

Behavioural changes may involve wearing masks and using one-way corridors or hallways to prevent close contact, as well as staggering work schedules through the day or week, frequent hand washing, avoiding gathering in groups, avoiding touching many surfaces, no more hotdesking and sitting well apart. Landlords or companies may also screen for illness or high temperatures at the entrance to an office.

For behaviour change to work, it must be followed. Employees must be empowered to hold each other accountable. This depends to a huge degree on a company’s culture. However, having survived lockdown and maybe even illness, most of the population is now only too aware of the risks and dangers associated with non-compliance of safety measures and is likely to cooperate.

Image from Cushman & Wakefield’s “6 Feet Office” to illustrate necessary behavioural change

 

5 Communication

The appropriate communication of safety measures is important for staff confidence and wellbeing. Management should share information about the changes they are implementing and why they are doing so. Regular surveys should take place to make sure that the new protocols are helping to make people feel safe.

Some companies are introducing courses and tests on the new protocols which employees will need to pass before being allowed back into the workplace.

Landlords of multi-tenant buildings also face challenges of coordinating the safety measures between tenants in shared areas of the building like lifts, stairs and corridors, and should be aware of this.

One aspect of workplace design which is unlikely to change post-COVID is concern for the environment. Many people have reassessed their priorities during the pandemic and the positive aspect our absence has had on the environment has strengthened people’s resolve to be sustainable in the future. Sustainability in office design will continue to be paramount.


Ben Johnson Interiors can design and fit any aspect of the COVID-secure office mentioned in this item. Please call us for details on 03333 449 249 or email interiors@benjohnson.co.uk