< View more posts

Sharing Strategies: Re-Entering the Workplace in an Ever-Changing Dynamic Situation

David Thal , AIA & Sarah Solberg, NCIDQ, IIDA

The workplace is adapting and evolving based on the recent COVID-19 pandemic and forcing us to re-think how we continue doing business in a safe and effective way.

As a business with three office locations throughout Ohio and Pennsylvania we are used to working remotely – both physically having multiple office locations and with our flexible work-life balance policies allowing our teams to work from home when needed. To assist with collaborative thinking across offices, we have a cloud-based system in place, we have been utilizing technologies, video conferencing and other virtual platforms to conduct business as a way of uniting our three offices, which we have dubbed “ONE WMF” for several years.

How have things changed recently for us and How have we adapted?

Here’s our current plan, which we expect to alter as we monitor and learn more...

We are listening carefully to governmental guidelines across the two states our offices are located, we have all transitioned to stay-at-home offices and we have established weekly update meetings with our staff, individual project team meetings, and virtual ‘happy hours’.

Much of the transition went very well, but not all was smooth…We needed to abandon our ergonomic designated work areas with multiple monitors and ample space to layout drawings and collect materials. Printing large scale drawings to review, etc. would soon be something we would need to forego.

We needed to carve a space within our homes for a stay-at-home workspace

We needed to carve a space within our homes for a stay-at-home workspace and figure out some technology and equipment issues. There were occasional broadband issues, figuring out how to focus from the distractions of everyday life all while finding ways to stay connected to colleagues and clients.

The safety of our team was the upmost importance in this transition, in addition to staying connected, and assuring the emotional in addition to the physical well-being of our staff. We mention this because as we re-enter the workplace it is very clear that employees need to feel safe. We have new protocols in place and have prepared our staff for some operational changes and expectations that will be coming soon.

So, as we transition back to our workplace environments, there are some first step “current” modifications and navigations we are working on.

This is what we’re doing...

Miro Board Capture

Client Team Virtual Visioning Mark-Up Session

Our offices will look and operate a bit differently upon our return. We are evaluating each office and finding creative ways to work with our current space and furnishings and refine our workplaces to incorporate and provide required safe distancing.

We are continuing flexibility and encouraging our staff to work remotely and conduct remote meetings to the best extent possible. This naturally reduces numbers of employees within an office, making social distancing easier. We have added more virtual platform tools which have connected ourselves and our clients in new ways. For example, we are utilizing an online collaboration tool, Miro: Collaborative Whiteboard, an infinite white board platform which allows us to share research, design schemes and vision with mark-up sessions with our team members and clients.

We are re-thinking our designed workplaces which currently has a variety of both individual and common work spaces designed for collaborative thinking and more casual areas to work together (teaming areas, etc.).

Cushman & Wakefield’s 6 Feet Office “movement” offers creative ways of addressing the 6’-0” rule for safe-distancing.

We would like to share some of the strategies we will be employing upon our return to our offices.

How we will provide a safe working environment:

  • Fully clean and disinfect each office location prior to our employees return
  • Stock each location with cleaning and disinfecting supplies
  • Locate multiple Sanitation Stations throughout the space (especially at communal areas such as the copiers)
  • Provide all required Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for our employees

How we will respect and empower our employees:

  • Ask employees if they are comfortable returning to the office and allowing employees to remain at home and work virtually if needed
  • Embrace new virtual work habits learned while working from home
  • Require temperature checks upon entry each day, including self-monitoring
  • Wear face masks to protect our co-workers
  • Provide tracking sheets located in each communal space indicating who cleaned the area and when Employees will be responsible for cleaning any area they used in preparation for the next employee
Knoll Conference Seating

Image Source: Knoll - Considerations for Returning to a Healthy Workplace

How we will adapt our space to provide safe distancing:

  • Analyze our existing floor plans
  • Determine areas that require mitigation
  • Limit visitors and designate visitor zones
  • Post maximum occupancy signs to meet current distancing requirements
  • Provide visual demarcations on the floor to remind others to not enter another person’s work space
  • Provide Signage/Visual Cues/Unique Routing throughout the offices
  • Identify “Hot Spots” highly traveled areas and relocate those employees
  • Implement staggered schedules to reduce in office density
  • Remove excess chairs in conference rooms, teaming areas and soft seating areas
Steelcase Retrofitting

Image Source: Steelcase Workplace-Post COVID article

  • Create safe open office areas, including workstations and benching by utilizing every other station, depending on distances, panel height or lack of panels and orientation
  • Do not have employees face each other
  • Add partitions/dividers/temporary panels as needed
  • Assign locations to an individual for the entire day
  • Consider standing meetings when appropriate
  • Encourage virtual meetings internally, with clients and construction teams

Knoll offers a useful Checklist for returning to a healthy workplace.

Next level considerations:

  • Upgrade air filtration systems
    • Provide integrated air purification system or stand-alone unit
  • Invest in touchless technologies

Source: Steelcase Workplace-Post COVID article

We're here to assist you...

Let us know how we may share our observations of your current workplace environment including layouts and configurations and offer insights to simple more immediate refinements, while working toward thinking about future modifications as well.

Monitoring, adjusting adapting and staying agile will allow us to remain safe and introduce new and possibly more effective and creative workplace environments. Stay Healthy and Safe!

Staying Resilient while maintaining our core values…One WMF