2020 will forever be etched in our memory as the year that made us consider many changes in our lifestyle, the biggest one of them being on how to go back to the place we call work. Suddenly going to the office was no longer required and Work From Home (WFH) became the new norm, where employees were questioning whether they would even need to go back to their offices in the future.
While employees may love the idea of working from home, it is not sustainable for companies. WFH gave a temporary solution for the workforce, however, it cannot replace the office work culture for many reasons. The most common one being, in person interactions that lead to an incubation of ideas which potentially help the business grow. A survey conducted by real estate consultancy JLL stated that 82% of employees surveyed in India would eventually like to return back to their workplaces. That being said, returning to the workplace would mean a lot of design alterations to provide a safe environment for the employees.
As companies begin to open up their offices again, they have to make sure their employees feel safe coming to work. The adjustments that are made in workspaces, have to be long term, because even if this pandemic is got under control, who knows when the next one is going to come and put our lives back into a standstill. The offices that were once designed to be safe in case of a fire or an earthquake, now also need to be Pandemic-Proof.
Here are a few things to keep in mind to prepare workspaces for the new normal:
1. Ensure that there is enough space in the offices for employees, and they are not crammed together, ensuring that there is at least a gap of one person between two individuals.
2. Look into solutions to help develop individualised spaces for example incorporating plexiglass is a good solution as it gives a feeling of being unified yet secluded.
3. Create graphics and visual elements around the walls which livens up the space and also reminds people to maintain social distance.
4. For common areas like the toilets and pantry, try to have it cleaned as frequently as possible. For washrooms it would be ideal to have self changing toilet seats. As for the pantry area, try to limit the number of people who use it at a time.
5. As for meeting rooms and collaborative spaces in the office, continue to use virtual technology that we have adapted to in recent times, preventing too many people from gathering in a room together.
6. Use furnishings in the office that can withstand high intensity cleaning and sanitisation.
7. Incorporate hand washing stations at different spots at the office that were never imagined, maybe right at the reception desk too.
It is also important to keep in mind that people are soon going to be transitioning from home office to their workplace, and as designers, we’d recommend making the space as lively as possible. A space that reflects the brand values and is designed keeping in mind your brand fosters productivity and creativity to its best. Large brand headquarters could split up into hubs in different locales, saving their employees on the risk of catching the virus on their commute to their workplace.
Ideally it would be great to have a contact free workplace where sensors work and people avoid touching the elevator buttons or door handles, but we know that’s going to take a while. Until then, we must do our best to ensure the transition to the new normal is easy and most importantly safe.