The Future of Work

Formcraft Enables Businesses to Safely and Effectively Return To The Office

Overcoming 2020’s “Business-as-Unusual”

For many companies, the first two months of 2020 were business-as-usual—reconvening in the office after a long holiday break, drafting quarterly business plans, hiring new employees, and setting personal goals. However, by the end of the first quarter, expectations, priorities, and goals shifted. The coronavirus pandemic left many companies wondering: Would “business-as-usual” ever return and is it possible to overcome 2020’s “business-as-unusual”?

During the pandemic, the percentage of full-time employees working from home rose to 44% according to a SHRM report released in August 2020. Remote work, once a perk of the job, became a necessary requirement for nearly half of the nation’s non-essential workforce. Remote work also became “business-as-unusual”. Gone were the days of conference room meetings, shared lunches in the break room, and stopping by a colleague’s desk to catch up. In-person interactions were reduced to Zoom interviews, meetings, and even happy hours. While almost one year has passed since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, many employees are still working from home. With COVID-19 vaccines being released and new research on how to safely return to work, there is hope that companies can reopen offices and bring employees back to work. 

Before your employees return to work, there are a few steps to take to ensure your employees physical and mental well being.

Don’t just “guess and check” what your office will look like. Bring data to the decision table and safely guide your employees back to the office. Sign up for Formcraft’s WorkforceDiagnostics, a data-driven scenario planning and workplace assessment program.

Assessing the Impact of Remote Work on Your Teams

Prior to the pandemic, many forward-thinking companies developed and implemented a work-from-home policy to provide employees with the flexibility and option to work from home. But, no one could have expected that entire workforces would be working from home for a full year. According to that same SHRM report, the percentage of full-time employees working from home in 2019 was just seven percent. Is there a happy medium between the amount of remote workers you have now and what you envision for your future office space?

That’s where Formcraft comes in. With our knowledge and expertise, we have the ability to help your company safely return to work. We’ll help you find that happy medium of how much of your workforce can, and should, work from home—and just how much office space you need to safely accommodate your team after 2020’s “business-as-unusual”. By figuring out the impact of remote work on your teams, you can build office policies that work for the future of your business. Before you decide how much you should allow your employees to work from home post pandemic, make sure to assess how your employees like working from home and how much they’d like to return to the office. 

There are many pros and cons to keeping remote work in your office policies after the pandemic, for the same reasons you wrote it in there in the first place. The ability to work remotely not only shows employees that their employers trust them, but is also highly sought after by younger generations—notably Millennials and Gen Z—during the job search. 

After you assess the impact working from home had on your team and business, there are ways to entice employees to return to the office in 2021. First, provide your employees with a work environment that makes people excited to leave the house. Before your entire workforce returns to the office, redesign your office space to not only make it safer for employees to return, but also an exciting space that will make them excited to leave the house. 

Build your employees an effective workspace that enables improved performance and productivity. Incentivize your employees to come back to work with a fresh space. This not only leads to effective workspace, but when employees have a workspace that inspires them, their performances and productivity improves. 

Show your employees that you appreciate all the hard work they did during unprecedented times. 2020’s “business-as-unusual” probably wasn’t easy for your business’ bottom line, but it also wasn’t easy for your employees that suddenly juggled childcare, home school, sickness, boredom, food and supply shortages, and more.  A redesigned office sends a message of renewed commitment to employees. Show your employees that you care about them. Send a message of renewed commitment to employees with a new workspace.

Updating Employee Health Safety Standards

As much as you want to get your employees back into the office and liven up your workspace again, you have to take the necessary precautions and focus on updating employee health safety standards. Not only do you want your employees to feel safe, but you want them to feel like you value them enough to take the extra step in updating employee health safety standards. This can include: Socially distant desk spacing, hallway widths, and conference rooms.

Improved air quality and ventilation

Almost one year into the coronavirus pandemic, It’s common knowledge that COVID-19 is an airborne disease, begging the question how can you get improved air quality and ventilation in your office space? It all starts with your HVAC system and outfitting your current system with solutions approved by the FDA for improved air quality and ventilation. First, there’s the option for air filtration through UV lighting. The FDA releases the most up-to-date information about ways to achieve approved air quality and ventilation, including air filtration through UV lighting. They report that UV lighting has been used for years in hospitals. By using UV lighting inside air ducts to disinfect the air properly, UV lighting can be used to achieve improved air quality and ventilation. In addition to socially distant desk spacing, outfitting your office’s ductwork with air filtration through UV lighting is an option. 

 

You could also consider bipolar ionization. This is another air-cleaning technology that has been around for decades to achieve improved air quality and ventilation. Bipolar ionization also works through your HVAC system. Getting bipolar ionization installed in your HVAC system can help remove the virus from the air via an electrostatic force. It is believed that bipolar ionization neutralizes the COVID-19 virus, leading to improved air quality and ventilation. One final way to achieve improved air quality and ventilation is by purchasing deeper, more fibrous air filters. While it is recommended to change air filters just every six months, by changing them more frequently or switching from budget air filters to deeper, more fibrous air filters, you can catch more of the unwanted allergens and viruses and remove them safely from your HVAC system. The one objection to upgrading ventilation for improved air quality and ventilation could be the unwanted, loud ventilation noises. That is one price you pay for safety and improved air quality and ventilation, but a solution that you could try would be purchasing low-cost white noise machines for employees that may be sensitive to the sounds. This would wash out some of the unwanted ventilation noise.

Updating shared spaces for easy, efficient sanitization

Does your office have conference rooms and break rooms? How about a common area where employees eat? These are key spaces for collaboration, but with the return to work during or after the coronavirus pandemic, these could be high-anxiety spaces for employees that aren’t used to being in close proximity to each other. This is where updating shared spaces for easy, efficient sanitization comes into play. In all shared spaces, make sure you have easily sanitized surfaces. Invest in antibacterial wipes and sprays to leave in these common rooms and instruct employees to wipe off their surfaces after they use them, in addition to a wider clean at the end of the business day. Easily sanitized surfaces include conference room and break room tables and arm rests on conference room chairs. 

 

What does your break room look like? If you have lunch tables, shared microwave, refrigerator and a dishwasher, you have to make sure these are being maintained for updating employee health safety standards. Providing community dishes and utensils helps reduce waste and your carbon footprint. But a simple rinse and dry is not going to be enough for community dishes and utensils. You’ll need a high-powered, sanitizing dishwasher in the break room. If you have an office manager, this would be a great task to assign he or she nightly so that the high-powered, sanitizing dishwasher in the break room can get to work and be ready for a new day. You’ll also have to add cleaning and sanitizing to your microwave and refrigerator. Another item for many break rooms is the water cooler. If you have regular water fountains where employees drink directly from the spigot, now is the time to focus on replacing water fountains with water bottle filling stations. This is a great way to reduce germs from the spigot. It encourages more water consumption among staff, which is a great health benefit. Water filling stations can also lower utility costs. Many employees consider water bottle filling stations a commonly desired “perk” among employees as well.

Don’t just “guess and check” what your office will look like. Bring data to the decision table and safely guide your employees back to the office. Sign up for Formcraft’s WorkforceDiagnostics, a data-driven scenario planning and workplace assessment program.

Socially distant desk spacing

If you have an open-floorplan in your office with cubicles or desks for your employees, there are steps to take to maintain social-distance guidelines. Off the bat, before your employees can return to the office, you have to provide socially distant desk spacing. Maybe that means your two marketing gurus no longer sit across from each other or your grouping of six desks is reduced to three spaced out islands. If you didn’t have cubicle walls for each desk or spacers, updating employee health safety standards can start now. Another idea to explore would be hot desking. This concept allows multiple workers to use a single desk or workstation during different time periods, allowing for sanitization time before the swap. This is a great way to avoid the natural overcrowding of your space due to socially distant desk spacing. The takeaway of socially distant desk spacing is that “maximizing” your space isn’t the same as “overcrowding” your space. Before the coronavirus pandemic, desk pods were a way of maximizing the space without overcrowding. Separating those pods runs the risk of overcrowding, and making the office have more of a classroom-feel depending on your square footage. This is where hot desking can come in handy or standing desks. During the Formcraft Process, our team can help you identify the best way to layout your office space to be visually pleasing and functional.

Touchless bathroom fixtures for improved sanitization standards and reduced overhead utilities expenses

Many public restrooms and perhaps, even the restrooms in your office, have converted to touchless bathroom features for improved sanitation standards and reduced overhead utilities expenses. These features include: Auto-flushing toilets, hand-sensing faucets, soap dispensers, and hand dryers, automated paper towel dispensers and toe-pull doors or outward swinging doors. Having a combination of these touchless bathroom fixtures, or even better, all of these touchless bathroom features is a great way of updating employee safety standards and making your employees feel more comfortable returning to the office.

How high-tech is your office security? If your security goes beyond flashing your ID at a welcome desk scanner or showing it to an employee, and you have high-security work that requires fingerprint or hand scanners, your employees may not feel comfortable scanning their hands and fingers all day long, not knowing how many times the scanners will be sanitized. Replacing fingerprint or hand scanners with retinal scanners, is a crucial step to updating employee health safety standards. Replacing fingerprint or hand scanners with retinal scanners (or even facial recognition) may become more common talking points as more and more high-security work resumes in 2021.

If you stop and think about the sheer number of hands touching door handles and door knobs in office complexes, you may drive yourself crazy. The germs and potential virus interaction are enough to make you not want to go back to the office. It’s impossible to sanitize common doors after every use. That’s where automated doors come into play. Door automation isn’t a new technology and it is widely common for many larger businesses. Automated doors are great ADA necessities, so many large businesses have at least automated doors for the ADA population. Investing in more automated doors will help in the long run and there are a few types. First, there are remote-activated doors. These won’t necessarily stop guests from reaching for your office door, but opening these types of automated doors is fruitless because they need someone on the inside to buzz them in. these doors are popular if you have a receptionist. Then, there are motion-sensing automated doors. These are popular in larger lobby areas or retail stores. Finally, there are scan-activated doors. These work when a retinal scan or security badge/fob is registered. These automated doors examples provide some peace of mind to employees worried about shared spaces and easy, efficient sanitization. It also helps employees feel confident returning to work and shows that you put effort into updating employee health safety standards.

Pro tip: Updating employee safety standards in your office? Let your employees know that you value their safety by sending a company-wide email or press release about your office updates. Making a big announcement gives your employees information that will make them feel comfortable returning to work—and adds anticipation and excitement to the future of work.

Added Natural Light

In addition to updating employee health safety standards, there are other ways to make your office safe for employees to return to work. There have been studies that natural light increases the natural UV light in an office, helping to kill many airborne contagions. If your budget doesn’t allow for UV or bipolar ionization updates to your HVAC system, just increasing the natural light in your office can help kill many airborne contagions. Added natural light can reduce circulated particulates by as much as 80%. Natural light can be a cost-effective “sanitization” tool over the weekend without adding to overhead costs. So go ahead, open your blinds to the fullest—especially on the weekends.

Improving Working Mobility for The Office and The Home

As mentioned, Formcraft will help you find a happy medium for the number of employees working from home after the pandemic. By taking a scientific approach, Formcraft can share the best phased approach to returning to the office. This phased approach could mean bringing back some teams while leaving others to remain remote. It could also mean that people rotate days in the office on the schedule to keep the total population down and keep from overcrowding. Formcraft can provide solutions for improving working mobility for the office and the home. Here are some suggestions.

Laptop-centric desk designs

Thanks to modern technology, employees are no longer strapped to their desks with a desktop computer. Remote work is made possible by laptops. For the future of work, consider laptop-centric desk designs. This includes docking stations or monitors with adapters to your employees’ laptops. Laptop-centric desk designs enable employees to easily move from working in-office to working from home. Using docking stations helps with fast setup of monitors, keyboards, and mouses.

Mobile workstations to help employees work in the office and remain socially distanced

Setting up mobile workstations helps with personal comfortability. “Permanent WFH” has become a trend for many employees because they feel most comfortable at their home. So how do you make your office more comfortable for improving working mobility for the office and the home? For companies with open office layouts, we recommend mobile workstations. This helps space out employees. It optimizes interdepartmental collaboration and establishes a perk for many employees.

Adding outdoor working areas

As the virus is spread airborne, many people feel more comfortable outdoors. Can you add outdoor working areas? Outdoor workstations, rooftop workstations, outdoor conference rooms are all options depending on the season in the Greater Philadelphia area. Adding outdoor working areas can entice employees to return to work, but also requires exterior power and extended wifi coverage.

Video conferencing stations

If you’re taking a phased approach to returning to the office, chances are, some of your employees will still be working remotely. Your conference room will still look different for a while due to employee health safety. Video conferencing stations are an alternative and you can invest in quality video camera and microphone, and dedicated hardline internet connection to make for a more engaging room. This dedicated station should be soundproof for quality sound over video conferencing and should still have easily sanitized surfaces like your other shared spaces.

Mobile hotspots

How many business leaders heard the “my internet’s out” excuse during the pandemic? While claims can be substantiated, there are times that employees take advantage of the system because, well they can. One of the downfalls of working from home is that employees have different internet providers and wifi strength. With the introduction of 5G, mobile hotspots are more realistic. A mobile hotspot allows for better internet connections paid for by the company and takes some of the burden off employees. Mobile hotspots enable mobile workstations that are considered a perk by employees.

Optimizing Workspaces for Your Long-Term Business Goals

Room to Space Out, Room to Grow

Growing businesses benefit from more space today and more space in the future. If your business is growing, chances are that you’ll need more room for personnel over the next 5 to 10 years. Adding extra space to your office now for coronavirus safety is a twofold benefit because you can utilize that expansion for additional people in the future. Formcraft can help you identify just how much space you need now to follow safety guidelines and how to use that space in the future for your office expansion.

Leveraging Learnings from 2020 to Improve Interdepartmental Collaboration

What can you learn from “business-as-unusual” in 2020? First, you’ve probably improved digital and in-person collaborations. Video conferencing and other streamlined systems like slack or Teams or Gchat helped collaboration with remote workers. You can leverage learnings from 2020 to improve interdepartmental collaboration by optimizing your office design layout with those digital and in-person collaborations in mind. Add large teleconferencing screens at each department for collaboration. Invest in mobile teleconferencing screens and workstations. Recharge your layout to allow for collaboration between departments.

In addition, leverage what you learned about sales presentations and client retention during the pandemic. Sales-intensive companies had to get creative during the pandemic beyond just in-person meetings and pitches being reduced to video conferences. Think about what you learned and how you can leverage it in the future. One idea would be creating a dedicated presentation and sales room for remote client communications with face-level and room-level cameras, microphones at every seat and a camera-friendly room design with minimal distractions. While some companies will jump at the opportunity to invite guests, clients, and customers back into the office, safety precautions have to be made to protect your employees that are still getting used to being back at the office. Having a physical barrier that separates client-facing personnel who meet with clients from their non-client-facing colleagues help staff feel more comfortable at the office. 

With the help of Formcraft’s WorkforceDiagnostics and our team’s expertise, you can build an office that shows you’re here to stay. Our data-driven scenario modeling program, WorkforceDiagnostics, delivers proven results to guide your workplace strategy—and your employees back to the office. Need help leveraging learnings from 2020 into your future office? Get in touch with Formcraft today by signing up for WorkforceDiagnostics.

Sign Up