June 26

COVID-19 Tech: Workplace Reconfiguration – Everything You Need to Know

Office design is continually evolving, influenced by culture, consultants, and changing technology. We've seen the open floor plan of the 60s, the rise of cube farms, and the modern adoption of coworking trends. Now, COVID-19 is ushering in a new era of design. We have to rethink our current spaces and adapt them to keep people safe and maintain compliance. Today, we'll go over office reconfiguration and everything you need to know, so you can feel confident when reopening your workplace.

The post-COVID office is challenging many of the design trends we've adopted over the past several years. Spaces that have emphasized sharing, collaboration, and interaction, must be reconfigured to promote distancing and safety. Not all modern design trends were in vain though, some of the characteristics of common spaces can help your office reopen. Let's explore some of the office trends that need to be re-imagined for the new normal.

What Must be Reconfigured

Open Floor Plans

A counter-attack to the cube farm, the open office was introduced to encourage collaboration with team members. Partitions were lowered or removed altogether, and private offices were abandoned. The problem? These open floor plans aren't conducive to social distancing and minimizing the spread of germs. 

Maximizing Capacity

Renting office space is expensive, with the average cost in cities ranging from $29/SQFT to $99/SQFT. Inevitably, this led to companies trying to fit as many people into as small a space as possible. (Another driving factor behind open office design!) These high-density designs can make social distancing incredibly challenging.

Communal Spaces

It's become the norm to have elaborate gathering spaces like break rooms with ping pong tables, lounging areas, coffee bars, impromptu meeting spaces, etc. These common areas are supposed to offer greater flexibility, mobility, and community. In the post-COVID world, they also offer an opportunity to spread viruses and germs.

Shared… Everything

The sharing economy has infiltrated the workplace as companies begin hoteling desks and holding meetings in coworking facilities. Sharing gives people control over how, when, and where they work, but it also increases the likelihood of spreading infections.

PwC Workplace Reentry Survey 2

With all of these design challenges, it's no wonder 78% of CFOs are anticipating worksite reconfigurations. If we want to get people back to work, we have to address these issues. 

Now you know the key design principles that need to be scrutinized, but how do they apply to your physical office? We'll break it down room-by-room, address the unique issues of each space, and our experts will shed some light on the solutions and systems that can help.

The Lobby and Access Points

In years past, your lobby probably hasn't had much of a density issue. It's just a constant flow of people coming and going. However, with additional COVID safety precautions, you may see these areas turn into significant bottlenecks. Temperature screening, health questionnaires, and safety briefings are all going to impede the flow of traffic. Creating a plan for these access points gets even more complicated when you factor in delivery people, customers, and guests from outside the organization. 

How do you reconfigure the lobby and access points in a post-COVID office? 

  • Utilize digital signage to deliver critical messages and updates. Combine it with people counting to issue alerts when spaces are nearing capacity limits. 

  • Install a hands-free access control system. These can be integrated with automatic door openers to provide a completely touch-free entry/exit experience. 
  • Upgrade your technology to allow a virtual check-in to minimize in-person interactions when possible. Talk to delivery drivers with the push of a button, video call with clients to walk them through your new check-in process, issue guest passes remotely, etc.
  • Expedite temperature measurements with kiosks and thermal cameras.

Common Areas

These previously sought after spaces now present major health concerns. They are harder to monitor and sanitize because of the ample touchpoints and inherent desire to congregate. You may choose to completely close-off areas like break rooms and cafeterias, but what about boardrooms and huddle spaces? And what about the long-term? We must address the density and sanitation issues so people can utilize the areas we spent so much time developing.

How do you reconfigure common areas in a post-COVID office? 

  • Integrate occupancy sensors to automate cleaning alerts.
  • Provide intelligent disinfection, which can reduce cleaning costs and improve the cleaning process's speed and effectiveness.
  • Upgrade video surveillance to monitor and promote social distancing guidelines.
  • Incorporate new COVID-19 technologies and IoT devices with your existing systems to provide additional safety measures.

Work Spaces

Work spaces are perhaps the most essential area to reconfigure since it's where your staff spends most of their time. Your existing floor plan probably needs to be reconfigured to give your team more space. Hoteling desks doesn't have to be abandoned entirely, but we must rethink the process. Conference rooms, which will be more important than ever, face occupancy, distancing, and sanitation challenges. 

How do you reconfigure work spaces in a post-COVID office? 

  • Reconfigure workstations to make them farther apart or facing away from each other. When possible, physically moving desks is the best way to keep people six feet apart. If your square footage doesn't allow a new layout, adding partitions and changing the direction that people face can improve the situation.
  • Minimize common touchpoints in collaborative rooms with cordless video conferencing, screen sharing, and presenting systems.
  • Deploy IoT devices that work with a digital ceiling for reporting, data insights, and intelligent disinfection.
  • Hoteling may allow you to reduce the number of necessary desks so that you can space them further apart. But the policies will need to be updated to ensure work stations are properly sanitized between users, IoT devices can automate and simplify this process.
Preferred place to work survey

We must do a lot of work before we can all return to the office, but these changes are necessary. According to a 2020 survey released by Gensler, people still prefer the office when given the choice of where to work. We are inherently social creatures, and we crave the interaction that only comes from face-to-face contact. And it doesn't hurt that the office doesn't have pets or crying babies or spouses on other conference calls.

People want to get back to the office, albeit in a different capacity. It's our responsibility to ensure that they feel safe and come back to a workplace that emphasizes health and wellness. This doesn't have to equate to major remodels and dollar signs though, working with what you have and reconfiguring can still create a compliant, post-COVID space.

The ASD® platform is about bringing confidence back to workplace technology. Never before has this been so needed. We would like to know what you are thinking and what you think works best for your environment. Please send us your feedback and let us know your thoughts as to the best next steps. Partners, manufacturers, and collaborators are welcome.

Get expert guidance on COVID-19 technology and start building your workplace re-entry plan. Let's navigate the new normal and get back to business.

About the Author

Doug Gies

Doug Gies is the VP of Operations at Automated Systems Design, Inc. He has over 25 years of experience in the rapid deployment of technology to Fortune 500 retail customers. At ASD®, Doug directs and guides operational activities with the objective of maximizing growth and profitability as well as providing day-to-day support to the team.


Tags

COVID, Office


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