The New, New Workplace

Envisioning the Future of the Office as a Result of Covid-19

My Design/Build company, Clayco, delivers approximately 4,000,000 square feet of class A office and call center space per year to Fortune 100 companies and other major employers. For us, creating productive work environments has always been second to the safety, security and well-being of our clients’ employees. That was before COVID-19. Now those three are even more of a priority.

During recent conversations with CEOs, facility managers and chief talent officers/HR executives, we’ve speculated about what preparations may be necessary to return the workforce to the office.  CEOs want their employees back for various reasons, and there are important decisions to be made, both for a few months from now, hopefully, and far beyond.

A number of us working from home are struggling with tools we may have dabbled in before but which are now front and center for conducting business. Between the user interface, an overloaded Data Center capacity because of the unanticipated surge in use of Microsoft Teams, Webex, Zoom and other products, it’s been challenging.

While the option of having some our workforce at home is probably here to stay, it’s often easier to collaborate, communicate and find efficiencies in the office. However, the executives I’ve talked to are eager for a return to normal, but ONLY when it’s safe.

We will certainly require new guidelines, CDC recommendations and suggestions from major health institutions. As employers, it will be our job to create work environments where “de-densifying” and social distancing can work in every department.

Some companies have already started thinking about a “care package” to be distributed to their workforce before they return to work. This could include guidelines and maps for new routes to their workspaces, healthcare products like hand sanitizer and masks, and even goggles. Work hours may be staggered in some facilities. Making workers feel that their managers care about them and their families will be critical.

The front-line facility people will be more important than ever. Property management, security, compliance and life safety should be top of mind. Re-evaluating every step from receiving for deliveries to the dock door itself, as well as the best cleaning products to use, will need to be scrutinized to protect those involved. Safeguarding up-close contact areas with plexiglass separations, to having more sophisticated UV protection in the HVAC system, more fresh air overall, and other mechanical changes, will be required.

Implementing these steps will take time and executives and owners need to start now.

Healthy workers can be polled to see who may tolerate using the stairs instead of elevators to get to higher floors. Every staff member may be asked to take a new route from their car, through the parking garage, to the lobby, all the way to their desk. Owners and executives can remove revolving doors and opt for vestibules with automatic doors instead, and we need to find other creative solutions as well to smooth the transition to one’s desk. Hand washing stations may be added, and restrooms modified, for the new working conditions.

An abundance of caution needs to take place at entrances for prescreening activities. Temporary facilities, (e.g., nurses’ stations) may be required to make this a safe and welcoming experience without being overly invasive.

The work area itself will change. Interiors will have less fabric, more hard surfaces for easier cleaning, less clutter and more rules about storing things at night so cleaners can disinfect the area. Workers will need to separate more while still being able to see friends close by. Conference rooms and other training areas will be modified with no-touch entry doors, larger TV screens for distance viewing, new types of AV equipment and more spacious quarters for trainees.

At break time, rather than having hundreds of people flow to the elevators to visit the cafeteria, a phased approach should be instituted. Some executives I’ve talked to are considering providing lunch service on the floors where the workforce spends most of their day.

There will be systemic changes to the way we work in the office space of the future, and I’m confident we will see many creative innovations in the coming months. Desk hoteling will likely be a thing of the past.