DESIGN TECHNIQUES TO GET YOUR WORKSPACE READY FOR RETURN-TO-WORK

Heather Van Essen

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Quickly adapting and reinventing the way we work sums up this past year. What initially appeared as a quick-hit pivot morphed into our current norm:

  • Working from home (WFH)
  • Communicating remotely
  • Alternating onsite vs. WFH team members 
  • Refiguring workplace office space to meet CDC guidelinesC

Some say organizations have fast-forwarded through years of technological advancement out of necessity. Would this advancement have been attained without a pandemic thrown in the mix? Probably. Would it have moved as quickly as it has? Likely not. Regardless of timing, organizations now face the question: “How do we permanently transition back to the office space with revised work standards, technology advancement expectations, and social distancing considerations in-play?” 

The Imprint Architects’ team has a few tips and tricks for employers to explore as transitions back to the office advance.   

PLANNING FOR AN EVOLVED WORKSPACE

Humans are naturally social creatures. Our new understanding of the benefit of maintaining social distance has called into question our close-knit work styles pre-pandemic. For most companies, the CDC social distancing recommendations drove the immediate reaction to hit pause on the in-person work environment and pivot to remote. Some embraced and adapted well to the new remote environment (think productivity!), whereas others longed (and continue to long for) in-person workspace collaboration. 

For some, culture drives connectivity, and for others, it improves morale. Whether organizations continue WFH, develop a hybrid work model or bring teams fully back to the office, consideration for the social connection needs of employees is paramount. But for organizations returning to work, it’s necessary to find a balance between the way things were and the new expectations we now have.  

Meeting Employee Expectations with Workplace Redesign

Be sensitive! Emerging from the pandemic, people may feel the need to control their environment more-so than before, including their distance between others in the office. How do employers create a collaborative environment while maintaining a safe social space among their team members? Imprint Architects offers a few considerations to chew-on.

So, where is my desk? 

Unassigned seating. This is the perfect opportunity to transition away from the idea of MY desk. Unassigned seating makes way for smaller square footage requirements as team members are not establishing a permanent desk or a more personal workspace. Seating is now for daily use only, and personal items become limited to what you can carry. Provide team members with a locker or file drawer to keep personal items (umbrellas, lunches, hats and coats, etc.) .  

Applying the “place to land” approach also allows members who need a more collaborative environment to sit in closer proximity to one another to work through daily projects as they arise. Unassigned desks mean organizations also need to place a greater focus on daily desk cleaning from cleaning staff – a good thing!

An unassigned seating environment, combined with smaller desk space, results in more distance between team members and more cleaning opportunities – which are two key benefits employees are looking for as they transition back.

I miss my couch!

Create comfy, collaborative spaces. It’s fair to say we all experimented with our couch as an occasional meeting space or leveraged that reclining chair to bust through a project. Adding community spaces with softer, more relaxed seating can help refresh employees during break time. It can even serve as a place for team members to feel a bit more at home. The change in posture can change one’s perspective on productivity for the day. It may not have been a norm pre-pandemic, but it certainly has become one now. With that more relaxed style, it may even be time to consider relaxing that formal dress code. Flex-in-dress can go a long way for an employee’s morale! 

Couldn’t less be more?

Flexibility with onsite schedules. We all can reduce office capacity (and thus free up space) by mixing up the office schedule. What is the best approach for your organization? Consider beginning with a headcount. What would it take to reduce office capacity by 20%?  

Scheduling a four-day workweek (as one example) will lower daily capacity and allow for added space between team members. Employers may even witness the ability to reduce the scale of office landscapes based on the selected schedule. Lastly, this flexible approach acknowledges the schedule benefits many team members recognized when adapting to a remote work environment. 

Considering flexibility in work schedules could positively impact both employee satisfaction and your annual budget. A win-win all around!  

Collaboration here, there, and everywhere! 

Collaboration in the work environment isn’t new. But how can we adapt to new expectations – and precautions of being up close and personal? Collaboration can happen from anywhere. Imprint Architects takes a look at where collaboration occurs and how employers can safely guide this important workplace effort.

Here (From a Conference Room). Conference rooms in pre-pandemic times were great meeting zones. Today, how we think of meeting looks different. To make the most of our current environment, consider reducing chairs by half or meeting without a table to seat a few more people. At our architecture firm, we sit in every other chair to maintain a six-foot distance. 

There (From Our Desks). Team members may want to be in the office, but not necessarily in a conference room. Recognizing some may not be comfortable gathering in a confined conference room space, organizations should consider adding technology to individual in-office workspaces that accommodate these workers. Hands-free video conferencing options and desk cameras are a smart investment that allows employees to connect to conference rooms from their desks daily. 

Everywhere (From Florida!) Remote video conferencing proved essential this past year. Maintaining – and advancing – efficiencies in this space will give employees peace-of-mind, while also expanding your recruitment efforts to new geographies. Ensure remote conferencing options work for those at home – even if “home” is 1,000 miles away! The best personnel fit for your organization may not live around the corner. 

Designing Environments that Promote Employee Well-being 

Building healthy environments contributes directly to the well-being of employees. Incorporating acceptable social distancing measures, schedules, and tools only takes you so far. Let’s explore more options.

Standing desks. Health – both mental and physical – is a hot topic right now. Providing the opportunity to stand while working improves the overall well-being of employees.  Standing can reduce time away from the office for issues such as back pain, neck headaches, and more. Standing also increases mood and productivity by nearly 10%. Who doesn’t want that? Most of us office workers need to be on our feet more! And contrary to popular belief, sit-to-stand desks are not a significantly higher investment, especially when considering the health benefits.

Air circulation. Incorporating safe distancing efforts is all for not if the air is circulating infection. Adjusting the HVAC humidity level to 40-60% helps reduce the spread of illness in the workplace. Also, increasing the amount of outdoor air entering through ventilation and proper air filtration instantly improves the health of any work environment! Learn more about how an architectural firm can help improve indoor air quality.

Restroom updates. Restrooms carry many germs by nature – Ewwww! The good news? There are ways to minimize the negative impact that poor restroom design contributes to overall well-being. Here are two tips from Imprint Architects to improve restroom design: 

  • Paper-towels vs. air dryers. Did you know air dryers recirculate particles in the air without filtering? Turning to paper towels spreads fewer germs overall.
  • Incorporate sight lines. If you have the opportunity to design a new restroom, consider one that incorporates site lines but eliminates doors. Imprint Architects makes this a best practice, with implementation incorporated into The District at Prairie Trail. If open restrooms are not an option, consider a trash option near the door so people can grab the door handle with a paper towel and toss it immediately.  

Balancing Familiarity with New Expectations

Incorporating familiarity with new expectations will help improve team member comfort levels as employers consider a full transition back to the workplace. This transition back may be uncomfortable at first, but over time, it will become second nature. Recommendations shared are solid improvements, even outside a pandemic environment. Well-being and peace-of-mind defines productivity and happiness in a workplace. Take all or some of these easy improvements to bring your employees back to work.  

Custom Design Planning and Resources

Reach out to our team at Imprint Architects if you would like help planning for and designing your office space. During these times, we can help with creating custom commercial designs to keep your business operating in a productive, flexible, and safe manner.   

Work hard, stay healthy, and Leave Your Mark.  

Take a tour of our commercial office designs.

About the author
Heather Van Essen
Heather Van Essen

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Heather Van Essen is an Interior Designer at Imprint Architects. In this role, Heather recognizes that creating an experience for the user is important for human interaction within a space, and she works to help guide architectural designs with this in mind. At home, Heather leads a family of five (including 3 pets!) so spending time together in between the chaos of daily responsibilities is where her heart lies.