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NAVIGATING OFFICE DESIGN IN A COVID-19 WORLD

The Context

In early 2020 the world was struck by the Coronavirus Pandemic, which laid societies and economies across the world low on a scale previously unimagined.

One of the results of this event has been the reduction in capacity in office building stock due to implementing the two metre social distancing rule, which has now had an impact on office design.

Here, Andrew Chadwick, Principal at workplace visionaries, Chadwick International, looks at what businesses need to put in place to be COVID-19 compliant and how their ‘Six Principles of the Space-Time Office’ is now more relevant than ever to help achieve the right balance between reducing workplace headcount and flexible or remote working.

The HUB Principle

COVID-19 has, and will, transform the world of work. As we see it, the physical workplace is now no longer to be considered a traditional office, but rather a “Hub” that acts as a focal point for the aims, aspirations and ethos of an organisation.

The Hub is now a transmitter and receiver of communications – as well the generator of an organisation’s operational programme – all run within a modest or reduced shell.

The HUB is what we call a ‘Space-Time Office’ and an example of the new breed of workplace emerging from digital transformation. It obeys all ‘Six Principles of the Space-Time Office’, which was outlined in a ground-breaking paper written by myself and Jeremy Melvin for the British Council for Offices in 2019.

  • PRINCIPLE 1 – The Liberation of Work from any fixed location

The Hub acts as a rotator or refresher for an organisation that works predominantly from home or other locations. It comprises several cohorts, all of which will use the HUB either in person or virtually.

  • PRINCIPLE 2 – The Space you need for the Time you need it

The working principle in the use of its HUB is “need” rather than “want.” A reservation system will be used to allocate a workplace to elements of each of the cohorts into which the organisation is split, leaving enough working seat-space to accommodate ad hoc reservations.

  • PRINCIPLE 3 – Equal (controlled) access to single or multiple locations

The organisation becomes a multi-location organisation in which colleagues can work anywhere, at any time and for however long is needed.   All locations will be regarded as equivalent in standing, and equipment will be linked, or connected, electronically with the best audio-visual communication systems.

  • PRINCIPLE 4 – A new measure between space time and occupancy

Space use in the Hub will be on a scheduled system based on the size of the cohort and its perceived need for presence in the office, coupled with frequent digital team interaction.  All colleagues will receive a schedule of time they can use to access the HUB which can be traded with other colleagues to meet the demands of the organisation.

  • PRINCIPLE 5 – Use technology intelligently and constructively

It is essential of course to have seamless Cloud-based data collection and storage system using Microsoft 365 or equivalent with Teams, Zoom and Skype audio-visual capability. State of the art laptops and iphones complete the on-line capability for top level communication.

  • PRINCIPLE 6 – The office building as a common good

This is the most controversial principle of Space-Time but very relevant to any organisation. It involves giving away the use of spare time to those start-ups and others who have no access to good working space. This may not be possible before the solution to the coronavirus.

COVID-19: KEY REQUIREMENTS

Operating mode procedures and rules

Putting the principles of the Space-Time Office into reality for the COVID-19 climate, operations start with the selection of location and mode of transport.

Senior managers will decide the rotation of the cohorts. Typically, travel will be by car, bike or foot avoiding the use of public transport as far as possible all in-line with Government recommendations. Within these rotations, individuals can book the specific space they need on a weekly basis.

Social distancing must be observed at all times during the day whether at the workplace, in video conferencing rooms or confined spaces previously identified.

On staggered arrival at the Hub, remote access tools are engaged on entry.  Hand cleaning gel will be used on entry to the lobby or entrance and again on entry to the floor.

On arrival at the workspace the staff member will log-in electronically and, similarly, will log out at the end of the working day.

It is the responsibility of each staff member to check their temperature before leaving home for the office.  Coats, umbrellas and boots will be stored in well ventilated facilities.

 

 As you can see in our drawings, the two metre social distancing rule means a significant reduction in floor occupancy.  In the example above, we’ve reduced a space of 40 workspaces to just 9.

The principle behind this revised layout is to avoid staff siting ‘face-to-face’ or across the desk. Whilst back-to-back is acceptable, it must comply with socially distanced routes between the designated workspace.

It is the responsibility of each staff member to check their temperature before leaving home for the office.

Meeting Rooms

Coupled with the reduction of workspaces, social distancing must also be observed in meeting rooms which negates the traditional meeting around a table arrangement.  As a result, video conferencing will become the primary use of these spaces with minimal provision of seating.

  • Hand gel dispensers, together with sanitisation sprays for cleaning surfaces, must be installed throughout the floor(s) at regular intervals.
  • Small, unventilated rooms should not be used as offices or meeting places as these present a higher risk of transmission of the virus.
  • Circulation routes around the office space should be marked out on the floor to avoid physical contact between colleagues.
  • A risk register must be published and distributed with a signed declaration by all staff members.

It is the responsibility of each individual to observe social distancing rules at all times.  An exception to this rule would be in the event of a medical emergency which requires physical interaction.

Whilst the ultimate responsibility for the provision of a safe workplace is that of the Chief Executive or MD, it is the personal responsibility of all staff members to safeguard both themselves and their colleagues by following the rules in-line with the Government’s publication.

Confined spaces

Use of confined spaces such as kitchen and toilets will be monitored with staggered break times.  All staff must observe the social distancing rule in these areas, as far as is possible, observing strict hand washing procedures before and after use.

  • All horizontal work surfaces will be sanitised before and after use. Ad hoc spaces such as kitchen, toilets must be especially considered.
  • Communal equipment such as printers must be cleaned after use.
  • Each staff member must store their personal wi-fi keyboards, mouse and / or laptop, together with any other personal items, in their allocated locker. All equipment must be cleaned regularly before storage in personal lockers at the end of the day.
  • A clear desk policy must be observed at all times on vacating the office space.

The floor marked routes must be used to circulate around the HUB to avoid infringing on social distancing circulation routes.

Hand gel dispensers and sanitising fluid are installed at regular intervals throughout the office floor.  Hand washing or gelling must be performed regularly throughout the day and  especially after access or before egress.

Socialising/Watercooler chat

Communication with colleagues in the office will be personal as long as social distancing is maintained. Otherwise, remotely with homeworking colleagues by laptop and Teams or larger AV screens in the video conferencing rooms.

  • At the end of the day, colleagues must make sure their equipment is cleaned and any surfaces used are cleaned including desks, chairs and docking stations.
  • Hands must be washed prior to a staggered exit avoiding close contact with colleagues.

In summary, there is a lot to consider when making a return to the workplace, but through the ‘re-invention’ of the office as a Hub with the majority of your workforce working remotely or flexibly, this can be a really transformative time for your business.

Chadwick International has also created a helpful Risk Assessment Register that is also available as a free download.

Chadwick International is a workplace architectural practice that focuses on innovative ways of providing stimulating working environments for businesses. To find out more, visit: http://www.chadwick-international.com/