The meeting was prompted by a conundrum. On the one hand, activity-based working, cool Millennials-friendly office spaces and new technologies are re-shaping offices. On the other, rigid health & safety regulations dating back to 1998 define in law how those offices should be set out.
Four expert speakers looked at different aspects of this conundrum, to explore to what employers needed to bear in mind from the regulatory perspective when planning new office space or replanning existing spaces.
Michael Dembinski, the BPCC's chief advisor, put the issue into perspective. The Polish labour market has changed in recent years in favour of the employee; low unemployment, changing demographics, increasing skills shortages and new technologies mean that employers have to work harder to recruit and retain the best people. Younger employees prefer models of work that emphasise collaboration, while valuing the ability to break off into specially designated zones to concentrate on 'deep work' individually. Office layout – with hot desks, chill-out spaces, mini conference spaces and kiosks for making phone calls without distracting others – has become a competitive differentiator for companies seeking good employer branding. But how to square these requirements with the law?
CBRE's occupational health & safety specialist, Paweł Zydkiewicz-Gronau set out the current regulatory environment. The principle changes from 1998 are the disappearance from the office desk of the cathode-ray tube computer monitor and the appearance of the tablet and smartphone. Legally, the distance between the backs of two monitors on opposite sides of a desk should be a minimum of 80cm. However, given that flat-screen monitors do not give off radiation (as well as being much slimmer), this regulation is largely redundant. Mr Zydkiewicz-Gronau said that health & safety monitoring by the state labour inspectorate, PIP, can be triggered by disgruntled employees or former employees.
Workplace trends as they affect recruitment and retention were covered by Małgorzata Jasińska-Dyla, CEE managing director, Hays Talent Solutions, who presented a report on these trends, conducted jointly by Hays and Kinnarps. The report showed how the five generations currently in the workplace differ from one another in terms of their expectations, and the importance of employee-friendly offices in staff retention.
Maciej Zdrodowski from Medicover talked about ergonomics and health, explaining how workplace design affects employees' well-being, with a focus on the office. Mr Zdrodowski considered optimal positioning of computer monitors and screens, and the dangers of spending eight hours of the working day in a poorly designed seating position.
Looking the office of the future, Beata Osiecka, CEO Kinnarps Polska and head of CEE Region, explained how to fit out an office so today's employees will want to work there, bearing in mind the importance of good ergonomics, and attractive and functional design that reflects the requirements of the activity-based workplace. Ms Osiecka showed that 'traditional' open-plan offices – 'chicken farms' – as they are often called, are likely to be replaced by more flexible forms of floor plan that acknowledge the fact that the working day consists of different types of activity.
Among the questions that followed the presentations were ones asking about the possibility of changes to the Polish law. The consensus was that amendments were more likely to come from Brussels than from Warsaw. Replying to a question about the fit-out costs of activity-based workplaces versus the traditional open-plan, the expert panel suggested that the increased costs would be defrayed by the fact that hot-desk based solutions take up less floorspace, reflecting the fact that at any one time, a certain percentage of employees would not be in the office, working from home or seeing clients.
The Q&A session was followed by the opportunity to walk around Kinnarps' office furniture showroom, demonstrating many different forms of space utilisation, from silent areas to mini-theatres to brainstorming rooms.