Return-To-Work Series: Our New Workplace

Clean Common Area
Does a clean design equate to a safe and cleanable workplace?

As a design professional, I am thankful for the opportunity to give you my input on how vital it is that we keep our workplace environment safe in this unprecedented time. Our workplace is our second home. It is where we spend a lot of our days and nights. It is where we communicate with our co-workers and our customers. It is where we achieve goals. It is a place that some of us have not been for a while. It is a place we miss.

So how do we get back there safely?  We must implement some simple short-term workplace solutions along with long-term upgrades as a community together.

First and foremost, I think the key to making this return-to-work progression successful is communicating with our workers. This will make going back to work so much easier for the physical, mental, and emotional needs of everyone involved. This time is very challenging, and the workplace must be treated as a haven so our workers will feel protected and be productive.

Below are some short-term initiatives that can be implemented now, while you are still at home.

  • Reach out to your landlord’s property manager and:
    • Request a mechanical duct cleaning prior to re-opening offices
    • Request a maintenance plan for proper ventilation flow at returns/diffusers
    • Request cleaning of window blinds and make sure they function to let in daylighting
    • Request a plan for ongoing deep cleaning of common areas of the building
  • Reach out to your executive team to suggest the following:
    • Providing masks for workers
    • Hand sanitizer stations at front entry, break room, & intermediate areas depending on the size of office with ‘hand wash’ reminder signs
    • Noise & mic canceling headphones (in lieu of work phones)
    • Give company mugs & water bottles for personal use
  • Reach out to your janitorial team to address the following:
    • Ensure a deep clean in your suite prior to worker re-entry
    • Provide disinfectant wipes at each desk, especially “hoteling” desks that are used by multiple users
    • Provide disinfectant wipes at conference rooms & huddle areas
  • REACH OUT TO YOUR EMPLOYEES AND TELL THEM ABOUT ALL OF THE ABOVE

The NCIDQ 2019 definition of interior design, states that it is an Interior Designer’s responsibility to analyze and plan spaces that meet fire, life-safety, and accessibility along with making sure that we address the well-being of the individuals utilizing the environment.

The future for interior designers now includes infection control planning for construction standards to meet health and safety requirements in the workplace. Much like healthcare executives, a company’s executive team will need to take these standards into consideration during the finish selection process. I envision we will utilize more materials that are antimicrobial, easily washable, like crypton or vinyl fabrics, and have an easy overall maintenance plan. Other areas that need further execution are touchless fixtures such as faucets, water fountains, elevator buttons and door hardware. These items have been in the market for quite a while and should become the norm in all new office buildings. Plus, many items can easily be retrofit by conscientious building owners.

In my opinion, a concentrated effort of how the space needs to be cleaned should be determined before we just pull our furniture apart for social distancing. Everyone has been focused on six feet of distancing per social distancing rules. Firms are discussing using floor circles around desks to signal appropriate space, adding floor arrows for “lanes” in the aisles, and getting paper placemats for desks each day. Social distancing is for people, not things.  Cleaning after the use of desks, collaboration areas, break rooms, etc. is more important for workplace safety.

Below is a list of long-term upgrades to the building and/or tenant suite that you work in:

  • Common Area building improvements:
    • No-touch technology at building entry doors, elevators/common areas, & public restrooms
    • Filtration & disinfection of HVAC systems according to ASHRAE guidelines
    • Incorporate outdoor space for employees to get fresh air & vitamin D
    • Restrooms with built-in toilet rooms in lieu of stalls
  • Tenant Suite improvements
    • Make cleanability a priority for furniture selection
    • Replace old counters with antimicrobial solid surface
    • Install adjustable monitor arms to allow more area for clean surfaces
    • Introduce green plants throughout space for better air quality
  • Cleaning improvements
    • Implement a maintenance plan for carpet & resilient surfaces per vendor conformity
    • Create in-office cleaning protocols that each employee must adhere to
    • Maintain cleaning inspection schedules
  • SELECT A COMMUNITY MANAGER FOR EACH WORKPLACE

Every workplace needs to anoint its Community Manager. This individual can be the bridge between the workplace and its employees. Many co-working businesses have this type of person. Some old-line thinkers might see this position as merely a receptionist or admin.  We need to see this person as an important piece of our workplace safety plan.  This person is an ambassador for the company that can engage with workers in both the physical space and on the virtual platform. Having a liaison between employees, executive leadership, landlord, janitorial staff, and any interoffice personnel will be transformative for the workplace.

How else will the workplace change? Here at Orion, we think the next direction will be to improve the virtual office. The virtual office has been our only workplace during this pandemic and it has become obvious where many companies are lacking in technology. Our team has known for some time that virtual functionality is fundamental to planning offices. It is now even more clear. 

But, I will let my co-worker, John, speak to that in the next article in our series…for now, please continue to be safe and we look forward to seeing you back at the office soon.

Jessica

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