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INSIGHTS: Your employees are ready to return to the office – are your workspaces ready for them?

K Jahn 003

Kelly Jahn, AIA, IIDA, NCARB, LEED AP

New York - Interior Architecture and Design Discipline Lead

kjahn@bergmannpc.com

(585) 498-7816

Albany workspace 0005

After weeks of working in home offices (some formal and some make-shift!), managing hectic family schedules and balancing the new work/home dynamic, many employees are eager to get back to the office.

It’s tempting to want to do this quickly; take a few immediate steps to mark off 6-feet distancing in key areas, provide disinfectant wipes and open your doors. However, we know that approach isn’t enough to ensure the health and safety of employees at this time.

As a professional architect, I’m trained to think about the physical workspace and building layout. As a team leader, I’m thinking about the physical and mental well-being of my multiple direct reports and fellow Rochester-office employees. It’s important that we balance both to show employees we’re truly putting their health and safety first as we consider a reentry to our offices.

This requires a well-thought out plan that can be acted upon methodically but quickly. Together, with our workplace design, engineering and health & safety experts, we’ve identified three key phases:

Phase 1: Supporting our people as they return

We need to take steps that help our people feel safe, valued, healthy and empowered – foundational elements of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

  • Employee discussions prior to returning to work, to address their questions and concerns.
  • Clear and consistent communications from all levels of the company – peers, direct supervisors, company leadership – leading up-to reentry and after employees are settled back in the office.
  • Educational posters and videos on new safety steps and habits we all need to follow.

Phase 2: Getting our office spaces and buildings systems people-ready

Our workspaces and buildings won’t feel the same in the immediate future and we need to adjust for that, making changes to spaces to to support basic health & safety, while understanding mechanical system needs for optimal performance.

  • Modification of spaces to accommodate social distancing and prepare common spaces
  • Outlining employee and visitor access and circulation
  • Review of HVAC and other mechanical systems for performance and health/safety measures
  • Providing ample supplies

Phase 3: Making long-term modifications workplace resiliency

No one knows for sure what “working in the office” will look like long-term. We need to design spaces to be resilient and responsive to changing needs and situations.

  • Applying touch-free aspects to doors, lighting and shared equipment.
  • Utilizing materials that limit the lifespan of germs (following best practices of cleanrooms, as outlined in my colleagues’ article here).
  • Adapting technology and communication tools for employees operating across mixed work styles – home, office and split-schedules.
  • Modular furniture that allows for varying configurations based on need and space allowances.

We’re actively implementing these steps for our own team across Bergmann’s 15 office locations and know that our employees view this methodical approach as our way of saying “we care and want you to be safe”.

If you’re looking for assistance with your own plan, we can help. Email me or read more here.