Anti-bacterial office screens, partition screens with viewport, office social distancing screens, office desk coughing screens and privacy screens are now being considered and introduced to office spaces. These products will assist our new ways of working and help to reduce the rate of transmission. Antibacterial products promote peace of mind and an increased sense of wellbeing for those who may be concerned about the return to the workplace. Please read below for more information about the return to work, potential office furniture changes and new working practices which we will have to adopt and adapt to once we return to the Covid-secure workplace.
The Covid-19 pandemic has presented several challenges for millions of workers in the UK and around the globe. We have witnessed and experienced the largest disruption to our normal working day and office life as we know it. Within a matter of weeks, companies and organisations have had to adopt strategies and policies to ensure the health and safety of their workforce by sending employees home to work, implementing IT solutions and ensuring the wellbeing of the employee is still met under these new conditions. Many offices have temporarily closed and for the offices that remain open, staff will be working under government guidelines which prioritize social distancing and shielding to reduce the risk of transmission. Business owners and facility managers will no doubt be making the necessary preparations for the return ‘back to work’. But what will the ‘back to work’ or Covid Secure office look like? It is a question many people have been asking and there will no doubt be a number of changes both to our working environment and working practices.
Some guidance about the return to work has already been published by the government on the steps employers should take to protect the health and safety of their staff once they return to the office or workplace. The main strategy and underlying message is the advice on social distancing which has been put in place for those businesses which have remained open during lockdown but will also be highly relevant for those who are planning to return to work in the near future. There is of course no one-size fits all strategy or solution so we must look at implementing changes and reconfigure the workplace, with a layered, carefully considered approach
1. Prioritize Physical and Social Distancing.
We are all now aware of the 2-metre rule when we are out in public so how will this be applied when it comes to working from the office? If possible, staff should work from home but if this is not possible, measures should be put in place to enforce the 2-metre rule. This message can be highlighted with the introduction of floor stickers, demarcation lines and signage especially in crowded areas or where queues usually form. Companies will have to think potentially about foot traffic, corridors, and introducing a one-way system to avoid crossing each other’s paths. Workers who cannot work more than 2metres away from each other should work side by side or facing away from each other, rather than face to face. If a member of staff is customer facing (which challenges the 2 metre rule) for example a receptionist, then glazed, transparent anti-bacterial protection screens will be necessary to protect them from potential infection. These screens are easy to clean and maintain and install and will give both worker and visitor a sense of reassurance and safety.
2. Staggering Hours and Shift Working.
Staggering hours and shift working should strongly be considered if it is not possible for staff to complete certain tasks at home. This would also make the 2-metre rule more effective as the staff footfall and presence would be reduced. Splitting teams up and alternating their working days from home to the office or introducing a day and a night shift will be highly effective to prevent the risk of infection. With a reduced workforce based in the office, employees may want to meet and talk to their colleagues or clients who may be working from home, this can be made possible by video conferencing.
It seems that the office of the future, or a post Covid-19 office could encourage (safe) collaboration and have less focus on individual desks and eliminate hot desking completely. The office may turn in to a hub where people can make video calls and meet in small teams as opposed to housing large numbers to work solely from a desk. Some banks and organistaions are now asking themselves if their expensive, sizeable offices are necessary when half their workforce are working from home effectively. Smaller office hubs would have significantly less overheads and could work well in this home working era. It seems that we were already heading towards are more flexible working practices with the availability of cloud-based software enabling us to work at various locations. It may be that Covid-19 has fast tracked us into this new way of working.
3. Recognise and Re-configure.
With most desks being just over a metre wide (1200mm) it’s highly likely that you’re used to working with a colleague in fairly close proximity. Hot desking, desk sharing and banks of desks are now seen as potential for cross-contamination. So how can you prepare for social distancing whilst keeping the main furniture infrastructure in place? Not all companies will want to overhaul their offices based on these new guidelines as there will obviously be cost implications, so it’s therefore important to recognize and re-configure. Notice where desks and chairs are and their proximity to each other and reconfigure them to adhere to the new guidelines. This may be as simple as removing every other chair next to and opposite each other. If this isn’t possible recognise if colleagues opposite each other are protected from air-bourne germs and particles and re-configure the dividing screen between them. We can offer anti-bacterial desk top screen extensions which can be fixed and clamped onto existing desk top screens, ensuring privacy and protection whilst keeping staff and colleagues more safe.
4. Increased Cleaning Schedules, Hand Sanitisation and Anti-microbial Fabrics.
Companies will need to plan, communicate, and enforce cleaning schedules to support their employees and reduce any potential spread of the virus.
We have been constantly reminded by the government to keep washing our hands, to effectively contain and prevent the spread of the virus and this will continue once we return to the workplace, with perhaps a greater emphasis. Hand santisation stations and signage to remind staff to keep washing their hands will be a feature in the post Covid-19 office. Bottled cleaning solutions near multi-use equipment such as scanners, photocopiers and shared computers will also be important features. It will also be important to keep your desk clean and if you have not already done so, now is a good time to implement a clear desk policy as this will allow faster and more effective surface cleaning times.
Due to a focus on cleanliness, traditional fabrics which feature on office chairs, breakout seating, room dividers and desktop screens may be phased out and replaced with easy to clean anti-bacterial upholstery, leathers and vinyls. This scientifically proven upholstery deflects harmful particles which could be generated from talking, coughing or sneezing.
5. Pods and Booths. Is it the end of the open plan office?
Open plan offices are prevalent across the working world and have been in place since the 1950’s. As a result, the open plan office benefits both employer and employee as being visible encourages strong channels of communication, teamwork, and collaboration. However, there are also several issues with the standard open plan model and it is mainly because the way we communicate with each other has changed dramatically. We no longer necessarily physically talk to our colleagues and often exchange ideas and work between emails and phone calls, saving the face to face chats over lunch or the well-known watercooler. This leaves us in a slightly outdated concept which no longer seems to serve us in the way it should. The open plan office also does not take into consideration introverted characters, or workers who can be easily overwhelmed by stimuli and who need time alone to recharge and stay focused.
We have, therefore seen, over time and before the onset of Covid-19, the increased need and demand for pods and booths. The primary purpose for pods and booths is to enable individuals and teams to partly escape the noise of the office and focus on the task in hand. Pods and Booths have been proven to increase staff well-being levels and productivity as our instinctive needs to feel comfortable and shielded are met when using them. So pods and booths may now be seen as a safe or safer space for an individual worker to base themselves for longer periods of time? Pods and Booths often feature high sides and encompassing shapes which protect acoustically and hygienically from harmful virus transmissions. They can also be upholstered in anti-bacterial vinyls, leathers and fabrics.
6. Mobile Screens or Room Dividers
The demand for flexible or configurable furniture has never been greater. Static fixed furniture can often compromise the use of a meeting room or a boardroom to one purpose which means valuable floor space is often not used to its full capacity. With a focus now on protective screens and room dividers it makes sense to be able to move these screens to different areas to create and re-define spaces. Defining your own space physically with a high screen creates boundaries which would otherwise be hard to define. Floor stickers and demarcation lines are helpful, but they cannot physically prevent someone from entering your personal space, if they were complacent. Mobile glazed screens are hygienic and can feature a cut-out letter box to pass items through whilst retaining a high level of protection for both user and recipient.