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Preparing ourselves to overcome the implications for workers and the workplace is possible – if we focus on smart near-term tactics and holistic, long-term solutions. We are here to guide and assist with retrofitting or reconfiguring your workspace.

As we start to return to work, employees need confidence to shape smart short and long-term return-to-workplace strategies. They need thought starters for planning spaces that will keep people at a safe distance from each other, yet allow them to stay connected and collaborative. As the economy reopens, competition will be intense. The crisis has created new challenges and opportunities in almost every industry. As a company, Seating is starting to think about product design differently. Infection control is a new given. We begin to consider which materials and surfaces are easy to disinfect, how shared furniture can be approached to minimise contact and how future office plans will incorporate virtual work.

While working from home has been good for individual focused activities, cooperative, spontaneous interactions have proved challenging. Yet everyone will return to work forever changed by this experience. It has affected our physical, cognitive and emotional wellbeing in ways that will have impact for many years to come.

We are here for you

Seating has weathered many storms, our forty years in business has taught us much to be able to assist you. In the short-term, planning will mean retrofitting the workplace, based on common-sense and global health guidelines, including physical distancing, adding barriers, cleaning and safety measures. In the midterm, building on what we learn from our experiences and science, organisations can begin reconfiguring the workplace. This will involve new ways to lay out space and change work settings to offer longer-term solutions for enhanced safety. Work environments in the future will require reinvention as science-based evidence and emerging technologies offer new solutions.

Short-term strategies

As you make short-term plans for returning to the workplace, you should prioritise holistic community measures, consider adjustments to your physical space to keep people safe, and use data to help you to decide who returns to the office and when. While it will be helpful to increase the physical space between workers, holistic policies like staggering work schedules and limiting the number of employees in a location are likely to be the most effective.

American furniture manufacturers with global reach, Herman Miller and Steelcase, endorse several of the following guidelines:

  • Make cleaning highly visible so employees are assured spaces are cleaned multiple times daily.
  • Reduce density with a sign-up schedule for working in the office.
  • Shift from allowing desks to be shared by multiple people to a single use per day. Reinforce a “clean in, clean out” policy.
  • Change multiple desks’ geometry from a linear to 90 degree angle setup, facing different directions.
  • Consider physical barriers where necessary; bearing in mind the potential ineffectiveness of low partitions as a solution (cough particles circulate high in the air).
  • Increase ventilation rates and the percentage of circulating outdoor air.
  • Redistribute responsibilities to reduce contact between individuals.
  • Implement flexible work hours and meeting options.
  • Redesign how people flow throughout a space.
  • Use data from anonymous surveys to determine who should return to work first: based on team interaction, technology perspectives and working from home challenges.
  • Implement a social network platform to share updates, encourage dialogue between staff and make team decisions.

We must also remember the lessons from the past
and respond to this crisis so that we may adapt over time as risks are mitigated in other ways.
The opportunity for the workplace is to move forward, not backward.

Jim Keane, CEO Steelcase

Rather than focusing only on dividers, successful future workplaces will better weave in safety features that don’t compromise workplace comfort and connectivity.

  • Consider things such as improved air quality and ventilation.
  • Increase surface and material cleanability through simplified design.
  • Minimise the number of high-touch actions through gesture and voice control technologies.
  • Video call meetings will continue, The use of large-scale video conferencing improves remote collaboration.
  • Meeting rooms could now be converted into private booth areas with acoustic and visual privacy or individual desks to make up for lost space elsewhere on the floor.
  • Add hand-washing stations at key circulation points and identify less integrated corridors for traffic flow redirection.
  • Use tape or other visual cues to identify and suggest appropriate distance between employees. Arrows on the floor can be used to direct one-way traffic flow in narrow hallways and corridors.
  • Furniture such as sofas should be marked for single usage unless it can allow physical distancing; lounge seating should be removed or placed at least 2m apart.

Seating MD, Clyde Collins knows that employee and organisational needs are going to evolve as people return to the workplace. He feels that Seating is strongly positioned as a company to help strategise, produce and implement physical environments that follow new safety protocols and allow people to come together again, get things done and achieve more.

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