The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way we live and will function in office spaces. Many of these changes should not be seen as temporary. They will transform employees’ and employers’ approach to the work environment. A new normality has emerged in which flexibility, productivity and – first and foremost – safety will be paramount.
Social distancing and strict hygiene regimes must be adhered to. To maintain social distancing in the office, a rotational shift practice could implemented, with some employees still working remotely. Companies operating on open-plan layouts can ensure a one-and-half to two-metre gap between employees by disabling some work stations so that neighbouring seats remain empty and employees do not sit opposite one another. Wherever permitted by office infrastructure, partitions could be installed to separate rows of desks.
Savills has decided to support office tenants by launching a special service and providing a free guide Return to the Office. We discussed the content of the guide with Prof Włodzimierz Gut, a leading Polish virologist. According to the guidelines from Prof Gut, a key principle that all companies should adopt is assume that only people who display no symptoms of Covid-19 can come to the office. Given the doubts about temperature screening of office building users, responsibility for yourself and other people is key. If you feel unwell or suffer from flu-like symptoms, you should absolutely stay at home and refrain from coming into the office.
To prepare for employees returning to the office, it is advisable to conduct an analysis of the utilisation of the entire leased space and implement appropriate protocols, and to check safety measures adopted by the owner of a building for common areas. Wherever permitted by the office layout, it is recommended to create circulation routes promoting one way traffic and to designate areas that are the most exposed to contact with people from outside of the company. In offices visited by many clients, plexiglass shields could be optionally installed to protect reception desk staff. It is also advisable to temporarily exclude breakout zones from use and reduce the number of people accessing a kitchen and meeting rooms. It is also reasonable to contact the property manager and ask for policies for the use of lifts, shops and food & beverage facilities in the building, and to make sure that the frequency of cleaning/disinfection has been increased in common areas.
Hygiene protocols are pivotal in reducing the risk of infection in the office environment. We recommend that soap and paper towels be provided in toilets and that employees be encouraged to wash hands. High-touch surfaces such as control panels of photocopiers and coffee machines should be regularly disinfected with products containing at least 60% alcohol by volume, and the entire office should also be occasionally disinfected using one of available methods that are safe to office equipment such as ozone fogging. Rotational work stations, particularly hot desks, should be disinfected after each person has used them.
New technologies can also be helpful with planning a safe work environment. Touch-free or voice-enabled solutions to automate processes are recommended in addition to implementing tools enabling remote contact with clients and colleagues such as conference and video calls. We also recommend introducing dedicated apps to facilitate shift work management and adjust office occupancy levels.
The fear of infection combined with a mass of information on the pandemic has given rise to many myths about the coronavirus. In developing protocols for a safe work environment, the focus should be on reliable information and avoiding solutions that may prove unrealistic or unenforceable. Communication with employees should not be neglected. Start with an employee survey, and clearly explain all protocols, which should be supported by signage in the office space.
The Covid-19 pandemic has challenged accepted assumptions about the nature of work, how it is managed and delivered and how businesses and their employees function. Getting back to the office won’t be easy and indeed when considering how to tackle this one of the first questions that businesses will ask themselves is “who needs to be in the office and why?”. Workplace change has been happening, but the pandemic has accelerated this and will give rise to longer term impacts and improvements.
The diversity of individuals, businesses, office designs and locations means that every return to an office will present unique combinations of challenges. We are aware that all the solutions we recommended in our Return to the Office guide need to be adjusted to the profile, capabilities and needs of each organisation and the technical conditions of space used and the building itself. This is why Savills has launched a service to assist office tenants in creation of a bespoke plan of return to the office and adjusting it to the new circumstances to make it a safe experience for employees. The guide can be downloaded free of charge at savills.pl and we encourage every member of the BPCC to contact us to learn more.