May 4, 2020
With Boris Johnson confirming that that government will soon publish a “comprehensive plan” on re-opening business to “fire up the engines of this vast UK economy” businesses are now considering the practicalities of getting their staff back to work. We all know of course that it won’t be ‘business as usual’ and that many “emergency measures forced on reluctant companies will form part of future thinking” (See BBC 30/04/20 ‘How Will Coronavirus Change the way we Live?’ The purpose of this article is to provide a range of suggestions to help companies address the need for better shielding and screening in the office.
Changes to the Office Market and Office Design
There are many anticipated changes to the office market and office design. Some of these relate to immediate and mid-term concerns that employers and employees have about how they can return to work but mitigate risk of catching Coronavirus Virus. There other considerations that will form part of on-going business planning and thinking. These cover such areas as home-working and productivity; requirements for paperless offices; but also building security, social policies and flexible building arrangements. (See Post Covid-19 Office Design Market, Colin Scarlett, Colliers International.)
Office Lay-out and Design to Provide Distancing
Let’s take a look at some of the immediate concerns about office lay-out and shielding and providing protection for office workers. Companies will be considering how best they can implement social distancing and some of this will relate to the layout of the office and how people interact with each other. This is where Whiteleys can work with you in discussing your office lay-out and then produce detailed space plans showing the design options. Our in-house installation teams are available to re-arrange existing furniture so that there is more space between employees. There maybe much more home-working, in which there may be, at some point, plans for a smaller office footprint. Again, Whiteleys can work with you in any requirements for space planning and office design and possible furniture needs in such a scenario.
Office Shielding and Screening
There are a variety of measures that can be taken to provide office screening. For example, acrylic workstation protection screens can be retro-fitted to desks. These are easy-to-clean,non-absorbent surfaces. There is also an option for vinyl screens for desks. These are available in a range of colours and sizes – and like the acrylic screens – they are easy to clean and wipe-down.
Panels are the perfect partitions for when you’re ready to break up your open plan office space into a number of work-spaces, whether into groups or individual employees. They add privacy to each cluster or individual, while promoting a generally quieter working environment where employees can still communicate with each other whenever they choose. Panels furnish your workplace with all these benefits, without the time and costs that come with building walls and extensive renovations to rearrange the entire space.
Free-Standing Floor Screens
In addition to desk-mounted screens and panels around desks, there are a variety of floor-standing screens. These are available in different heights and widths and are provide some sound-proofing. They can be curved or straight and can be fitted with wheels for easy mobility. Again, these screens can be covered in vinyl for easy wipe-down. Free-standing screens can be positioned strategically in the office, as needed.
Open Plan Only?
By removing the physical walls that divide the work-space into private offices, the aim of companies was to bring down the metaphorical walls between employees, to create an environment of collaboration. The idea of the open plan office – is that with open access to colleagues – communication between employees would improve.
This all sounds great, but the reality can be very different and research has shown that an office that is entirely open plan can hinder teamwork and collaboration. Researches put this down to employees thinking that they are being watched whilst engaged in creative tasks. So social pressure – feeling that others are watching – limits the degree to which workers might creatively solve a problem and therefore be more productive. The employees may worry more about looking busy, which dilutes their attention to the task at hand.
Time for Change?
With the need to provide more distancing between staff, perhaps now is the time to make some changes to the office layout. We’re not suggesting that the open-plan arrangement be done away with, but there are ways to create a variety of rest and break-out areas. Such spaces are perfect for getting away from a noisy office, where employees can meet in small groups – or work individually to concentrate on an important task. Using storage dividers, booths, individual pods, high back sofas and break-out furniture are all effective ways to use furniture to provide quieter areas for staff, where they will naturally come together to collaborate and bounce ideas between each other. So work on striking the right balance between open plan and more private break-out areas.
Glass Partitioning for Individual Offices
Minimalist design glass partitioning allows light to flow from room-to-room, creating elegant glass partitioned areas that have an open and spacious feel. They are a great way of making good use of space and provide individual working areas without isolating colleagues.
Glass panels can be attached to existing walls within a slim-line frame, eliminating the bulky-type frames that were installed in the 1990’s. The end result is an attractive, contemporary office space.
There are a lot of areas to consider and hopefully these thoughts will provide at least some input. Please do remember that the team at Whiteleys is here to help. Please do call us – even if you want to ask a few questions or get a second opinion – we would be glad to help. We can provide full project management if needed. Please call on 0208 313 3344 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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