Ever since we started talking about ‘Ever since the pandemic’, there has been one question on everyone’s mind: How will we get back to normal? The answer to this mystery varies from person to person, industry to industry. One of the major concerns for industry professionals across verticals is how to safely re-open offices. Experts claim that it will take more than wearing masks and putting in desks at a distance in order to truly get ready for the post COVID office life.
While there are various strategies to safeguard employees, none of it is is as easy as it seems—even in open-plan offices. Office re-openings executed correctly undergo exhaustive COVID-19 hazard assessments, workable options from architects and commercial interior designers graduated from the best design colleges in India, and approval from all stakeholders on an approach to enforce the same.
One common denominator is certain: The more you delve into it, the more complications arise. This warrants a need for innovative workarounds and solutions.
It is known that controlling COVID-19 spread implies overlooking a safe distance between employees at all times since the transmission is droplet-based. At places like a construction site, water droplets that carry the virus scatter in the wind. Indoors, they linger as air recirculates and survive on surfaces.
Measures to increase air circulation in buildings and utilizing mechanical control methods can lower coronavirus exposure, but it does not satisfy our quest for an absolute health hazard free zone. In addition to this, physical distancing measures can prove hard to put in place effectively. Especially masks, they’re even harder to enforce.
Space Planning Starts with Meeting a Firm Goal: 6 Feet of Separation
Coronavirus safety guidelines from medical organizations across the globe warrant for six feet or more separating workers, or the use of barricades. However, even this rudimentary social distancing measure — assuring that two people without stretched arms do not touch — is hard to execute in itself. The part of execution where you have to ensure a distance of 6 feet between chairs makes office planners come face to face with one truth: There is a lot still to fix.
Open office plans give encouragement to collaboration in close quarters literally, with workstations grouped up around circulation routes and minimal partitions. Seating arrangements, in which employees face each other or sit side by side, increase risks of the transmission of the virus when deskmates reach for files or move in their personal space. Once workstations are moved away from each other, circulation routes will not be wide enough for comfortable two-way travel, and there may be few available one-way routes.
Break Rooms, and washrooms—with all their counters, fixtures, appliances and different types of seating—can be breeding grounds for the virus. Similarly, closed conference rooms of every size. Architects and commercial interior designers graduated from the best Bachelor of Interior Design colleges are adept at such space planning and problem-solving.
3 Paths to a Safer Office Reopening
The important thing here is to deal with COVID-19 with humility. Even the experts have much to learn about the virus. But our office reopening playbook presents combinations of three basic options:
- Keep Some Employees @ Home.
Social distancing norms essentially make for fewer employees to occupy the same space. If there is one thing that the imposed lockdown restrictions have shed light upon, is the fact that not all employees need to be working from the office since collaboration softwares allowed them to work for long periods.
Corporate leaders must prioritize which people will make offices even more productive. People across various verticals may have to share desks in staggering shifts, start times and break times need to be modulated to maintain decorum and following of guidelines. Employees at the highest risk for COVID-19 will need to continue working from home.
- Rearrange and Retrofit. Employees who are willing and able to return to the premises will require reconfigured workstations, spread farther apart or with additional shields or partitions. Long tables or benching systems, even with fewer seats, Professionals will need to adopt an open-door policy, as a means to avoid using doorknobs. Restrooms need to regulate occupancy limits, feature sensor fixtures and be cleaned constantly. Conference meetings need to bid farewell. Stick with the Google Meet or Zoom Call.
- Find More Office Space. Conference rooms, break rooms, restrooms and kitchens are the high danger spots in the office as long as COVID-19 spread is an ongoing concern. Spacing out workstations could inconvenience some team members out of their current occupancies. Temporary measures need to be deployed for both issues: Demarcate common areas as overflow workspaces.
Firms have the option to complement their space planning by making changes to people’s workflow. Marking off new traffic directions and safe standing distances will help teams break old habits. Maintenance crews need to be instructed to disinfect doorknobs and other touch surfaces daily. However, employees also require hand sanitizers at copiers, snack areas and supply stations.
The communications sent out by the organizations need to showcase genuine concern for the safety of others and vigorously indicate the need for new practices for using face masks, maintaining social distancing. Making online collaboration tools work, taking appropriate amounts of breaks and staying home if COVID-19 symptoms appear are some other things organizations need to tend to. An office reopening is a time to revise on-boarding and training materials to reflect what companies have learned about working safely and caring for their employees.