How to optimise your workspace for a post Covid-19 world – Q&A

Our recent webinar on 14th July explored the different workplace themes which are emerging for a post Covid-19 world and how organisations can optimise their workspace in the longer term.

A number of valid questions were raised throughout the webinar which the Woodhouse team have reviewed in great detail and provided the following responses.

As a challenge/consideration of future office use how big a factor is public transport in influencing people whether to commute in – or not?

Certainly, for the Covid pandemic, we have data to show that there is still a high level of anxiety; around 44% of people* have reported feeling anxious when considering a return to work because of the health risks posed by Covid-19 to them and those close to them. 31% of people* were anxious about commuting to work, with this figure jumping to 52% for London based workers. Longer-term, we’re seeing that one of the factors which people cite as a reason for wanting to work from home is to avoid the commute. Saving time is really factoring into people’s decisions moving forward. This also then opens up recruitment opportunities; if the option to work remotely is available then considerations could be made when looking to recruit outside of your normal geographical location.

*YouGov Survey for the CIPD, May 2020 – poll of 1,000 respondents.

What type of creative spaces are people or yourselves suggesting?

We are finding that this depends on how creative you want to make the space; is it a collaborative or whiteboard space?

For collaborative spaces, the high back sofas/booths are incredibly popular. When we have looked at utilisation previously, these products regularly come out on top. High benches that people can gather around, sit at with stools are again very popular as it’s a versatile, multifunctional space which you can sit at on your own or as a group.

Whiteboard space works well for gathering people into a room to hold a pure brainstorming meeting. If you take out the furniture and put in lots of whiteboards, stools, high tables, give everyone a pen and allow everyone the opportunity to scribble their thoughts and ideas then you are likely to see a more productive meeting which encourages creativity.

We are also seeing some very interesting technology coming through with ultra short throw projectors deemed to be the next generation in smartboards. They effectively write in light rather than ink and you can save this and work on it from multiple locations. People can immediately see what’s on the smartboard if they’re dialling in from Zoom or Teams.

How can you make the workplace comfortable for those who want to have a personal space, with all the flexible desking?

There are products out there such as the Hotbox which you can put photos in which you can take from your locker, take to your desk and use this to temporarily personalise your space. What we tend to find is that more and more teams are personalising their areas. The philosophy is getting people away from a ‘this is my desk’ mentality to a ‘this is our space, a shared resource which I’m in with my team’ mindset, and you can start to put corkboards up which allows for personalisation of the area as opposed to the single desk. It’s always a good idea to involve people when creating the rules about how this should be managed as it allows for a sense of co-ownership.

How important do you see desk/meeting room booking software solutions in future workspace management?

At the moment this is vitally important. If you are carrying out any form of desk sharing then room booking which links to visitor management and cleaning regimes is essential. Desk capacity is currently down to 30-40% and up until now, the agile working ratio would recommend that there would always be available desks.

However, if you’re considering a radical change to your space which involves people coming into the office 1-2 days per week and they want to sit as a team, this is where a desk booking system will need to be at the forefront of your ‘return to the office’ strategy. There are some very interesting desk booking systems out there which are quite cost-effective and worth exploring such as Cloudbooking.com which is a comprehensive solution and will allow for QR codes and visitor management as well as the basic desk booking.  The visitor management element can be great from a track and trace perspective.

One client we’ve worked with created anchor points within the office. This allowed different teams to flex up and down in the space that they required but they had an anchor where Team A went to that area to find their desk which in turn created a habitat for individuals that they recognised and felt comfortable in, although the desks may have been shared.

In certain organisations, there is a free-for-all approach which does work but then you do need a desk booking system in place to manage it however for most organisations, people want a sense of ‘home’. Grouping like-minded teams together can work well.

How do we foster the sense of team and inclusiveness when you might have a project team mostly office-based and some of the team working remotely?

The key to this is appropriate and regular communication.  It’s about understanding how each member of the team functions and what support they need.  It’s important when looking at individuals to recognise that some will benefit from more regular contact but that conversely others could feel stifled by this.  That said, a baseline consistency is vital so that everyone is kept in the loop and has the opportunity to engage with each other. Undertaking a staff survey can help to understand staff needs and perceptions which is important.

We are seeing a lot of team WhatsApp groups that didn’t previously exist, but also regular Zoom quizzes/calls that are set up to be informal and to give that opportunity to share which fosters the sense of ‘team’.

When you talk specifically about a team that has a number of people working in the office still, coupled with those that are remote I think that the key is to ensure that the remote workers have access to information.  Regular update calls so that they feel included, but also collaboration tools like Miro / Mural / Whiteboard that encourage engagement from all parties, but that can be accessed when convenient so that people can add their ideas organically and not just at a specific point – this allows for some form of the spontaneity that is a key positive of being in the office.

The future location of offices – city/town centre with public transport or back to out of town office parks?

The future is probably a central office, possibly in a city, but supported with local hubs in towns which could involve buying a membership with businesses such as WeWork. However, this is all dependant on the organisation. A local hub may be beneficial as the commute would be reduced and public transport could be a feasible option for a set group of employees.

How are companies managing shared and high traffic areas? Eg kitchens/reception?

Signage guidance throughout the workspace is helping with this issue along with contactless solutions for washrooms, doors and reception areas however with products that always require an element of touch, such as a microwave or kettle, there should always be hygienic sanitisation solutions available. We would encourage a full risk assessment to be undertaken before you return to the office.

Further information about the Safer Workspace Return programme can be viewed here.

What does the “social heart of the workplace” look like?

This is a place to encourage people to socialise and encourage them to take regular breaks away from their desks, which in turn promotes a healthier way of working, increases productivity and allows for sharing of information.

The ‘social heart of the workplace‘ should be attractive and multi-functional in order to drive people here. Depending on the layout of the building, there could be local tea-points throughout but with a reduced number of facilities, and then a much larger central space is created which has seating, collaboration zones and tends to be multi-functional with high tables, high-back sofas, booths, a games corner etc. This should be a great space which people want to go to. An example of this is a workspace consultancy we carried out with Engie which resulted in this type of space being created.

Engie Case Study

What are your experiences of the Health & Safety long term issue of staff working from home in terms of workstation assessments etc that we need to consider for the future?

As this scenario becomes more long term, there is a need to go through the proper processes to ensure that people have the appropriate setup.  There are regulations in place for home working, and although there has been leniency to date, it is likely that this will reduce over time and it is therefore important to start to consider exactly how your staff are working from home at present and who is/isn’t happy with the setup.

For some organisations, it isn’t feasible to address everyone at once and so we have seen people using staff surveys to gauge where the issues/priorities lie.

There are those clients who are making a decision not to have staff return to the office until the end of the year at least, and some of these companies are now looking at the desks/chairs/screens that are left in the office and that can be delivered to homes to ensure that people have the correct setup.  In other instances, we are seeing clients who are providing an ‘allowance’ to enable people to buy what they need to make the home working experience more effective.

Do you think that employers may be encouraged to commit to some costs to set up peoples home workspace and maybe even some extra running costs for electricity etc whilst working from home?

100% Yes – If remote working is to become more permanent then there are several things that need to be done. A home working assessment and an ergonomic assessment are key and there is online software available, such as Posturite, at a fairly low cost which can be rolled out that allows your staff to carry out a risk assessment and learn how to set up a home office.

Another option is to introduce a voucher system or a budget that allows people to buy from a set catalogue. Our Smarter Home Working Package features a selection of ergonomically designed products to suit any home working environment. From flip top desks on castors for easy storage to office chairs for appropriate support and even desktop accessories for dual screens.

Have you got any recommendations for employees who are struggling to adapt to the future organisation?

This depends on the personality type of the individual however we can share with you our for creating a Smarter Home Workspace. Key issues being faced include setting a structure for the day ahead, the merging of work and home life, and from a mental health perspective, avoiding isolation as this can cause a loss of connection with the team. Regular team meetings and catchups can help to manage this.

A good idea is to create champions within the office who can disseminate their enthusiasm and encourage new ways of working throughout their workforce. The key thing is to ensure your employees have a choice in how they work and offer them a range of work settings in order to get the best from them.

Further information about our Workspace Consultancy process can be viewed here.

Keep an eye on our communications and website for details of our next webinar coming soon!