A lot has changed in a very small amount of time. We have literally seen the levels of change you might expect to see in 10-15 years in just 3 months. From busy offices, break rooms, meetings and the like to offices being shut down and everyone working from home. Obviously the aim is not to use home working as a permanent solution but as offices start to re-open what factors do employers, staff and shared space users need to think about to make work…work in the coming months and years.
No Time Line
The tricky part about all this is not the fact we don’t know when lockdown will be eased but that we simply don’t know how long Covid-19 will be a countrywide, and global, problem. While we may see a vaccine in 3 months it could be 3 years and if that’s the case, we need to adapt rapidly to make workplaces functional and safe. But what does this adaptation look like and what is really actionable in a workplace.
One of the really big factors is going to be communication systems. For many offices this means improving the existing video conferencing systems. Small businesses might cram round a single screen for a video call on the odd occasion they would happen but now they are going to be the norm. This means bigger screens or separate cams on personal screens to keep a safe distance will be important. While working from home may well play a part it is likely that offices will still be busy workplaces. Internet access is going to be critical, not into the building but also across the office spaces. Where once it may have been a case of ethernet connections for each desk it may now be easier to spread desks and workspaces out and rely on WiFi. Communications companies offering custom business WiFi solutions are going to be needed to make sure every possible corner of an office gets a good signal. Why? Well because in order to space everyone out companies may need to have people sitting in every corner; literally! WiFi black spots could have a serious impact on productivity. On top of this people will be using many of their own devices to be able to work from home so they may need to bring them into work which means higher spec systems to make sure security is in place for this.
As we have already discussed we simply don’t know when, if ever, social distancing will be a thing of the past so for the foreseeable future offices are going to be places where everyone is separated as much as possible. But what is this all going to look and feel like. It is clear, no pun intended, that social distancing screens are going to be a big thing. For a lot of desks it wont feel that different because of the dividers many offices use but for offices with people sitting side by side and face to face it is going to be very odd. But it isn’t just desks, there might be screens in the communal areas, client waiting areas and more. There are some concerns that all these screens will make offices feel very hot in the summer but perhaps there will be a few less people moaning about colleagues with a particularly strong smelling lunch!
Most offices have some kind of air conditioning system, some very small offices rely on simply opening a window but all larger offices certainly have systems that involve air circulation. Well, this may well be a thing of the past! While air conditioning is still allowed it must be a system that uses, at least in part, fresh air from outside. In some cases air conditioning systems in offices do not have that capacity so may need to be left off until they are upgraded or replaced. We may see other ways of cooling offices coming into play like solar shading where mesh is fitted to the outside of the glass to reduce direct sunlight. As with many things to do with the pandemic a reduction in the use of large air-con systems is certainly good for the environment and may help to reduce the spread of the virus but it may not be very comfortable.
If one thing is clear it is that everyone in an office, Co-working space or any other kind of work place will need to be considerate to those around then, even more so than usual. Some people will be very worried about Covid-19 for personal reasons including having vulnerable family members and more. There may be other staff members with underlying conditions and considerate and careful behaviour towards them will be very important indeed. But staff may also need to consider employers, while isolating is important if people feel unwell, it is not a chance to fake being ill and get 2 weeks off fully paid. If we are going to get through this everyone needs to work together.
However, this turns out, business needs to carry on and dedicated business owners, employees and entrepreneurs need to make it work the best they can. There will be some annoying things that come out of this; there might be some good things too! But as the saying goes “it is what it is” and we have to get on with it.
Photo credits: eOffice