April 05, 2022

The New Workplace: Post Pandemic

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Designing a workplace that is secure and ready for employees to return post Covid-19

There’s no doubt the coronavirus pandemic has changed the way we live and work—perhaps forever. And if you’re a manager or business owner overseeing the transition back to the workplace post COVID-19, chances are, you’re feeling a little overwhelmed. With the situation changing on a daily basis, it can be hard to keep up with the current rules, regulations and best practice guidelines when it comes to preparing your workplace for a return to the office.

For the majority of organisations, the transition back to work will require a combination of short-term fixes to meet the legal obligations of a post-COVID workplace as well as a longer-term strategy that involves rethinking the space to ensure it’s better equipped to manage future challenges.

Prioritising the health and safety of your employees, clients and stakeholders should, of course, be front of mind. However, it’s important at the same time to ensure that the investment made in refining and transforming your work environment also represents ROI, to ensure the ongoing viability of your business.

There’s no doubt this presents a serious challenge. But the good news is, that with the right knowledge and support, you can find a solution that allows your workers to return to work with confidence.

So, if you’re ready to map out a plan to get your workplace equipped for today’s challenges and beyond, read on to discover the key considerations (and strategies to combat them) for creating a workplace that is COVID-secure and pandemic ready.

Topics we cover:

  • Short-Term Obligations
  • Long-Term Solutions
  • Meeting Social Distance Spacing Requirements
  • Flexible Working Arrangements
  • The New Normal for Communication
  • Taking Hygiene Seriously
  • Wellbeing Comes First
  • Finding ROI is a Must
  • With the Right Strategy, a COVID-Secure Workplace is Achievable

Short-Term Obligations

As a priority, you’ll need to assess your workplace and identify the features that need to be added, adjusted or replaced before your workers can return. The requirements vary greatly depending on your location and industry, which means accessing the right information is critical. A good place to source up-to-the minute, detailed requirements and guidelines is via the Safework Australia website, as it is regularly updated to reflect any shifts or changes that occur.

While there are a host of industry specific requirements that must be followed, across the board, an increased level of cleaning , the ability for staff to practice social distancing, and adequate access to hand washing and sanitising stations is a must. In addition, depending on where you are situated, a COVIDSafe Plan may be required—and even if this isn’t a legal requirement for your workplace, developing one can provide really useful framework to follow in these uncertain times.                                

Long-Term Solutions

One of the first things to come to grips with when planning your longer-term strategy is that it’s unlikely that everything in your workplace and industry will go back to ‘normal’ if and when a vaccine is available. The disruption caused by this pandemic has altered the way we live and work in such a profound way, that many of the adjustments we have made will likely become permanent. This includes changes to both our behaviour and environment.                                                                                                                  

When it comes to your physical work environment, much planning is required to ensure the office is well-equipped to support the wellbeing of your people and to better prepare your business for any similar events that may occur in the future. For this, you’ll need a clear strategy and actionable plan on how you will alter your workplace to meet the changing needs of your workforce. Depending on the size of your organisation and the scope of your changes, this may be more effectively managed and achieved with a space utilisation strategy via a suitably experienced office fitout and refurbishment specialist such as our team at Zircon Interiors.

Meeting Social Distance Spacing Requirements

One of the most important factors to get right in any office refit or refurbishment is maximising your available space to allow you to meet the guidelines of 1.5m social distancing. This needs to be carefully considered across all areas of the work environment— from individual workstations and desks, to shared spaces such as lunch rooms, boardrooms, bathrooms, corridors as well as entries and exits.

How you tackle this will depend on the size of your workspace and the number of employees. In some workplaces it may be sufficient to source new workstations or add partitions, while others may require a larger scale approach in the form of a total rethink of how the existing floorspace is used. Some businesses may also adopt a combination of the two, making smaller changes to meet an immediate need now, while also implementing a longer-term strategy to future-proof the business. Either way, without a design background, it can be challenging to visualise how to best reconfigure your space. If this is the case, talking to a specialist commercial interior designer will not only save you the time and hassle of trying to manage the project yourself, it will also likely result in a better design outcome.

Flexible Working Arrangements

One thing the pandemic has taught us is that flexible working arrangements can be an effective way to operate, even under the most difficult circumstances. If we can make it work while juggling home-schooling and competing for available workspaces in the home, just imagine the outcome if we have a well-designed space and no interruptions! There has been a growing movement for a more widespread adoption of flexible working arrangements over the last decade and it seems clear that after experiencing it firsthand, both employees and employers may look to continue with work from home arrangements on an ongoing basis.

In the short-term, many organisations, especially those with a high number of employees, may look to stagger their workforce where possible to reduce the number of workers on site and decrease the level of risk to employees while there is still a possibility of a positive case of COVID in a staff member. Those who can work effectively from home, may be encouraged to do so on a rotating basis, which will make it easier to adhere to safe distancing practices, while also being beneficial to employee wellbeing.

The New Normal for Communication

During times of restrictions, closures and lockdown, we have spent much more time communicating virtually, and have universally embraced video calls as an effective way to stay connected at work while apart. Online video communication platforms such as Zoom , Skype and WeBex have kept us in touch with clients, coworkers and even our family virtually while face-to-face meetings have not been possible.

This has worked so well, that it seems certain that virtual appointments, meetings, conferences and training will be utilised as an efficient and cost-effective method of communication ongoing. For most workplaces this will require a change in setup, as dedicated spaces will need to available where calls can be made in a quiet and private location to avoid unprofessional interruptions and background noise. A viable solution to address this is the installation of dedicated phone and video conferencing booths that can accommodate the increase in numbers of video calls and conferencing that will now be a regular part of many employee’s daily routines.

Taking Hygiene Seriously

While a short-term solution to tackle hygiene may involve supplying hand sanitiser on every desk and installing a dispenser at entry points and shared spaces, there are some companies who are thinking of the bigger picture. As part of their long-term strategy and refit, they are incorporating design features such as permanent hygiene stations found in hospital office buildings to encourage hygiene practices can continue indefinitely.

In addition, stringent cleaning and sanitisation practices should be established and maintained in workplaces everywhere, with a particular focus on places like desks, kitchens, bathrooms and other shared spaces. In the longer term, this extra emphasis on heavy duty cleaning will likely impact the materials chosen for furniture, fittings and floors, with a preference for durable surfaces such as stone and laminates over the more porous options such as natural timber.

Wellbeing Comes First

Supporting your team during these challenging times is a must to alleviate possible ongoing mental health concerns and assist your team in a smooth transition back to work. Whether your employees have been directly impacted through financial stress, illness or have struggled with isolation, prioritising positive mental health as they return to work is essential. For some, they will be itching to get back among their coworkers, while others may have thrived in a more peaceful home environment and be a little more reluctant. Understanding the differences and offering flexible solutions will go along way in creating a happy, loyal and productive team.

It’s a good idea to be open about the specific measures that are in place to adapt to the new way of working to instill a sense of confidence amongst the team that you take their safety seriously. An honest, positive and proactive approach will also help to alleviate any anxiety about the potential risks of returning to work in the midst of a pandemic. When it comes to planning any changes, always consider how it will impact your employees first, and where possible seek feedback on potential changes first to get a feel for their perspective.

Finding ROI is a Must

For many businesses, the pandemic has seen profits take a hit, so getting ROI on any major expenditure is more important than ever. In the case of implementing COVID-safe measures, it’s a good idea to work with a complete strategy that addresses both the short-term requirements and long-term needs of the organisation. Making changes cohesively, as part of a complete strategy offers more value financially than leaving it open for ongoing issues (and subsequent expenses) to arise.

Working with a commercial fitout specialist who can provide a competitive quote on the entire project, allows you to measure ROI far more effectively than a reactive approach. Plus, when you tackle it holistically, you can be confident you’ve covered all bases and your workplace is as prepared as it can possibly be for what lies ahead. This flows through to an added peace of mind, confidence and loyalty within your team. When they feel valued and cared for, your staff are more likely to stay on in the organisation long-term, which also adds to the ROI factor as you avoid the financial costs associated with hiring and training new staff.

With the Right Strategy, a COVID-Secure Workplace is Achievable

While the challenges of a returning workforce can at times seem overwhelming, with the right approach, transforming your workplace into a COVID-secure environment is highly achievable. What’s more, with the right strategy in place, the physical transformation of your work environment can potentially lead to an invigorated workforce with an office that is designed especially to meet their changing needs.

Whether you have a vision of what you are striving for, or need guidance to bring it all together, partnering with the right interior design and fitout team allows you to make the most of this opportunity for change and create a new workplace that is not only pandemic ready, but also perfectly suited to maximise the productivity and wellbeing of your team.  

Like to Know More?

Whether you are looking to implement a small scale refit or are ready to create a strategy for a complete refurbishment, our experienced team can offer expert advice. Contact us today to discuss your unique workplace requirements and find out about our COVID Space Utilisation Strategy.

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