As we start a new year, office managers have a lot to consider in order to balance Covid requirements with the changing expectations of the workforce. Ollie Plastow, director of Consensus Workspace, provides some advice on how to easily create a welcoming office that will help the team have a healthy approach to work during ongoing uncertain times.
2020 was the year of homeworking and thanks to highly responsive IT teams up and down the country, businesses were able to adapt well - for many professions, the interruption was mercifully only slight.
The return to a central HQ was still a welcome development however - both for business development and staff morale. Careful planning was needed as facilities managers worked closely with HR teams to ensure that Covid guidelines were followed and employees were comfortable working alongside each other.
As we head into 2021, the needs will be slightly different again. At the time of writing, there is talk of tighter restrictions, lockdowns and tier 4, with a ban on the commute and a return to working from home to try to keep Covid infections down. While there is no guarantee of a stable year, it will be the role of FM and HR again to ensure smooth transitions between the office and, home, to keep people feeling as settled as possible.
Here are some simple ways to help your team cope with the potential disruptions to their working lives.
Clean It Up
You can adapt things like keypads, grab-rails, lift buttons, light switches, door handles, taps etc. to be touch-free: push-open cupboards can replace those with handles. If you can take down dividing walls, now is the time to do so: open plan, well ventilated spaces are advisable. These changes may feel a bit of an outlay, but in the long run, they are way more cost-effective to clean and pleasant for the user. They will maintain and encourage a new hygiene-aware way of working that will become the norm.
Make It Homely
People have been used to working from home and many businesses are now looking at a more combined way of working, to make use of the IT set up and provide flexibility. There are changes you can make to an office interior, to help smooth the line between home and office. Bold, minimalist offices of the past can make way for warmer colour palettes, softer textiles and more subtle backdrops. They will still allow you to maintain your corporate personality, but combine to create a feeling of ‘home’. It’s vital that your team feels relaxed and the décor makes a huge contribution to the overall ambience.
Maintain The Distance
It’s easy, after time, to let things slide a little - people naturally get a little complacent. But the same rules in the office need to apply; one-way systems, screens, distance, masks, ventilation, upscaled cleaning. Ensure you keep communicating these rules, through internal newsletters, signage and word of mouth, so that the team is reminded and reassured that their safety continues to be paramount. Clever use of plants, paint effects, flooring, and furniture can help to create a comfortable, stylish interior that looks good and invites the employee in, while subtly zoning to ensure people keep their distance from one another.
Use the new year to encourage a healthier workforce. Walking meetings, bike shares and healthy food provisions are a great start but it’s not just physical health: if you can, provide areas in your office that allow socially distanced breaks from work, give your team mindfulness apps such as Headspace and create an office that communicates health. Natural, re-used textures create a feeling of comfort and demonstrate a sustainable ethos. Have plenty of plants: biophilia recognises that humans have an innate need to seek connections with nature and respond well to it.
Covid has crystalised the need for the workplace to be clean and healthy but it has also shown that it has to be somewhere that employees can relax and feel comfortable in order to perform their role effectively.
The aim for 2021 will be to prioritise staff wellbeing. Changes may need to be made but that doesn’t mean that style or good design needs to be compromised, and it doesn’t mean you have to plan a complete recalibration. With some simple adjustments, your office can be adapted to be a more healthy, pleasant place to be for the long-term, which can only be a good thing.
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