Back To The Fu(rni)ture: 


What Does Your Workspace
Look Like After
Covid-19?

Life has always been about change. But this time, we’re being expected to change our normal behaviours at exponential speed. Moore’s Law famously said that the speed of computing will double every 18 months, although the way we used those computers didn’t shift as fast as that.

But now, in the space of weeks, we have moved from normal working and living conditions to dramatic changes, where our daily interactions have moved from face-to-face to a completely remote basis.  Every day now, I am catching up and communicating with friends, family and work colleagues via a screen.

My office colleagues are having dance classes and yoga online. My daughter is having online football coaching and my dogs have lost 15% of their weight with all the walking they are being forced to do. I’m not sure if I have also lost weight, but perhaps on zoom it’s not so obvious either way!

In Australia, the curve of infection that we have flattened through our enforced social distancing now looks to be heading in the right direction, back towards a more normal, safer world.  However, that “normal” world is not the same as the one we left just a few weeks ago.

According to the Centre for Future Working (see link), 15% of the current workforce have the ability to work permanently from home, and they expect this to rise to 30%. Meanwhile, almost all of us have had the experience of working from home, and now understand the good and bad of it. For many people, once the anxiety and social isolation from the pandemic dissipates, it looks like working from home will be their preferred option in future.

The impact of this on workspaces in future will be significant, possibly transformational.

First the HOME OFFICE: Employers are just starting to think through the full implications of their staff working extensively from home. Will employment contracts in future come with an expectation of an allowance to kit out employee’s homes with the appropriate furniture, computers, printers and other office-like services – maybe even a coffee machine? Perhaps staff will consider that a better work -life balance will “pay” them for this privilege. Either way, how will the taxman view such permanent arrangements? Will they remove the tax and CGT disadvantages, and will all workers be treated equally - for example, will these benefits be means-tested?

Secondly - the OFFICE WORKPLACE: With social distancing, are we going to reverse the diminishing ratio of office space per person, with the current allowance of less than 10m2 per person being increased by 20-50%, to 12 or even 15m2 per person? Or are we going to assume that we will have an A and B shift at work, and need half the current desk space in future? Do they share desks, and do you then need a deep clean every weekend?

SUGGESTED OFFICE LAYOUTS POST COVID-19

With proximity comes the need for protection. Maintaining 1.5m of “social” (work?) distance within our work environment will not be easy, where the trend has increasingly been to improve staff interaction, not limit it.  Do we mark ingress and egress channels on the carpets for staff, to ensure they keep their distance as they walk around? And how many people will be allowed in a lift at any given time? One suggestions has been that we ask them all to turn to the walls to minimise breathing each other’s air, although I think that this “naughty corner” approach may be too uncomfortable to work in practice for long.

Perhaps workstations will need “sneeze screens” to protect everyone from their colleague next door. If so, then the vast majority of workstations that have screens at less than 1200mm high will need a new larger screen, to protect the potential spray from an errant Covid virus. All of these office arrangements will need additional cleaning. 

The good news is that safer personal space (and increased employee privacy) in the office can be provided by the increasing range of in-office booths. Whilst the air that you breath sitting in one of these booths is the air from outside, the air filters and solid sound-limiting materials of the booths can offer protection as well as privacy, combined with a regular sensible cleaning regime.  

Reception areas, for health clinics in particular but also anywhere the public congregate, including cafes, lobbies (and whilst we are at it, trains and planes), need some re-thinking. Right now we are seeing requests only for polypropylene chairs that can be easily wiped or hosed down by the ubiquitous cleaning gangs.

From what we’ve seen so far, TCW can help provide what’s needed on the furniture side for the post-virus office (and home office) – including “sneeze” screens, polypropylene chairs and in-office booths. It is a fast-evolving space, and there are some bigger issues that need addressing as I’ve touched on above. I would be happy to hear any and all your views on this, as we all try to make sense of the new world of working, so please drop me a line and I will report back over the coming weeks as things develop. In the meantime please find some useful links.

 

WRITTEN BY: Kasim Ali-Khan - Director TCW

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2020/04/will-coronavirus-end-the-open-office-floor-plan/

https://edition.cnn.com/2020/04/30/business/lessons-from-china-business-coronavirus-intl-hnk/index.html

https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/sites/default/files/2020-05/COVID-19-Workplace-Checklist.pdf

https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/sites/default/files/2020-05/Working_from_home_Workstation_Setup_%20Guide-COVID-19.pdf

https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/sites/default/files/2020-04/COVID-19-Physical-Distancing-Checklist.pdf

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