The return to the workplace will not happen overnight – it will take place in stages. It will not be an easy process – these are uncharted waters for all of us. However, one thing is clear, people will expect to return to a different office than the one they left. The office must now be changed to provide security, to minimise health risks. TECHO is ready to provide both products and expertise to help create this new type of workplace environment, which we call the “COVID-safe Office”.
Feeling safe and secure
The economy has been shaken by events – as business struggles to fi nd ways to continue under lockdown conditions the home office became the temporary refuge for offi ce workers across the globe. However, as and when infection rates start to fall, companies are keen to encourage staff back to the office. To do this the office will have to change – employees need to be reassured that working conditions are safe. TECHO has the know-how and capacity to help achieve this with its range of health shields, and though application of its workplace environment expertise.
We can offer a range of immediate solutions involving the retrofi tting of protective screens to existing furniture, adding hand sanitation points, UV light cleansing and simple but effective signage. We are also ready to help clients achieve more long-term solution involving new layouts and ways of arranging office operation.
TECHO has always been committed to creating healthy workplaces, and we have now focused this expertise on helping companies get back to work in Covid-safe offices.
The return to the office – the next steps
During the shutdown companies had to very quickly adjust to a new way or working – staff were sent home without any preparation. Home officebecame the new norm and people adapted to this surprisingly quickly. Modern technology provided the means to keep a feeling of team spirit and corporate culture going, and managers were able to keep effective control of their teams. However, this could only be a temporary situation. When the global economy restarts the requirements of generating new business and cooperating with clients and colleagues, as well as the human need for interaction, will necessitate a return to the office workplace, although home working may well play a more important role than it did prior to the crisis. That genie is well and truly out of the bottle.
After a period of very low economic activity the pressure will be on to regain effi ciency and productivity. Key to this will be making employees feel comfortable again in the office environment. Comfortable now means “feeling safe and secure”. A very different meaning than it had when the offices were vacated.
It is probable that trends to date in office layout will be turned on their head – hot desking, relax zones, workstation density etc. are all areas that will likely see significant changes in the coming months. Pre-Covid offices environments are unsuited to the requirements concerning social distancing, employee gatherings and hygiene practices. However, in creating a Covid-safe office we still need to ensure that the office environment remains a place for exchanging ideas, for creativity and cooperation. For this to be achieved employees will need to feel confident in their workplace safety, and see concrete Covid-safe measures in place. The first stage is to ensure social distancing and hygiene through the use of transparent and easy to clean screening products – the TECHO health screen programme.
It is likely that staff will return in waves, and not all at once. The return will also be fragile to start with – it is essential that those returning feel safe otherwise the pressure to return to a home office situation, which for many companies is less efficient, will grow again.
From the moment staff walk back through the door it needs to be clear that things have changed – a wellcontrolled reception area, barriers and instruction signage. Then in the offices, they will find a workstation at which they are shielded from the surroundings – a workstation that puts their mind at rest and enables them to concentrate on work. Also new will be numerous “hygiene stations” dispensing hand sanitiser, with strict company guidelines requiring its regular use. In the relax zones seating will be spaced out and free-standing screens will offer protection to those seated.
These initial measures will win back the trust of employees in their workplaces. Further longterm changes will probably also be required, the exact scope of which will depend on developments in the coming months.
TECHO health shield programme
TECHO health shield programme – an initial and quick to install Covid-safe offi ce solution
Social distancing and screening – TECHO health shield. A range of fully transparent acrylic-glass dividing screens. These shield workers from colleagues whilst still enabling close interaction. They are resilient to regular cleaning with standard alcohol-based sanitiser products, ensuring enhanced levels of hygiene. Not only is this product an effective barrier to the transmission of respiratory illnesses, but it is also a visible statement from a company to its employees that it takes health and social distancing measures seriously. Being transparent, the open-plan office maintains its collaborative character – employees remain part of a team. The health shield comes in the form of height extensions to existing screens and full-height desktop ounted screens for the sides and back of a demarcated workstation.
Health shield specification:
high-quality 4 mm acrylic glass
desk-top mounted or extensions to existing screens
size options to suit standard desk configurations
easy and effective cleaning using soapy water or standard plastic cleaning products
Modern trends of creating “residential” style offices along with maximizing density and productivity per square metre is giving way to the demands of social distancing and hygiene. For employees an attractive workplace will no longer be one full of soft seating and table football games, but rather ones where they feel secure. A close integration between workplace and home office will also become a more important feature. “First aid” measures – dividing screens, reorientation of furniture. In the longer-term, companies will need to look at reorganisation of the way in which an office is laid out with emphasis on furnishings made from easy to clean materials.
How TECHO can help guide clientsin creating a covid-safe office:
Immediate measures to quickly convert an existing workplace into a covid-safe office
consultancy – layout, density, changing work practices
barrier products – screens
smart lockers – reduce personal interactions
emphasis on products made from cleanable materials
(smooth surfaces resistant to intensive regular cleaning with disinfectant products)
advice on drafting workplace guidelines
Reception, and entrance areas in general, are a high-risk zone. It is here we see the greatest movement and rotation of people from the fi rm and outside. Here we see a constant fl ow of delivery people and visitors. Whilst we only recently started to adjust these spaces to a more agile method of working, impromptu meetings and new forms of cooperation, today we must consider ways to change these spaces to protect the health of our employees.
The task facing designers of workplace environments is how to maintain the character of entrance spaces whilst also providing maximum protection for people within the firms. In our experience companies should focus on the following areas:
Ahygiene station(hand sanitiser dispenser) should be placed by the entrance with all people entering the premises required to disinfect their hands. This should be backed up with appropriate signage.
To protect reception staff, and provide them with a necessary feeling of security, we recommend that reception desks be fitted to acrylic glass screens as a barrier to viral and bacterial infections, whilst still enabling eye contact and interaction.
We have found that clear signage (particularly on the floor) is the most effective way to ensure people observe social distancing measures. Exhaustive lists of instructions will frequently be ignored.
Smart personal lockers
One of the more visible aspects of the new trend are reception areas overflowing with personal parcels. Lockable boxes with electronic locks can be placed directly in the entrance space, or even off the company premises. Already new services are appearing, such as mypup, which installs lockers at your address, takes delivery of all your parcels at logistics centres and make all the deliveries at once, once per day.
Modular soft seating – we have found that soft seating can be used as an effective tool to divide up large spaces, reduce the movement of people and set an optimum capacity and social distancing in public spaces.
Freestanding screens can be placed in a lobby area to offer protection around seating areas, and to direct the flow of people through the space.
TECHO health shield products are free standing acrylic screensin a wood frame that are placed between workers on a desking row. TECHO dividers are extremely stable – the most stable on the market. The frame provides rigidity that prevents any “flap”, and with a heavy base they are not easily knocked over.
Ultraviolet germicidal irradiation
A state-of-the-art method for disinfecting spaces and surfaces, which TECHO is now supplying for office use, is ultraviolet germicidal irradiation. For large open plan offices UV lamps can be used overnight when the office is empty and they can disinfect the entire space deactivating viruses and bacteria. To date this technology has been used for disinfection within the healthcare sector, but now is increasingly being used in the workplace environment.
To make meeting rooms safe we recommend locating a hygiene station at the entrance to meeting rooms, which anyone entering the meeting room should be required to use. We can advise on measures to ensure 2m social distancing during meetings. Transparent screens can potentially be used to provide protection to meeting participants. Due to the room size, ultraviolet germicidal irradiation is the ideal method to serialise a meeting room between meetings – depending on size around 10m of UV light is required followed by 5 minutes of ventilation before the next meeting can start.
Kitchenettes, common areas etc.
These are potential high-risk areas where social distancing measures and regular cleaning are essential, as well as potentially UV cleansing.
Each individual zone in an office premises needs to change. On the following pages you will find details of recommended measures for the individual zones.
Long-term measures – office redesign
Integrating the Covid-safe requirements more permanently into the office layout and design will almost certainly be necessary long-term. However this crisis develops, social distancing and hygiene will be workplace requirements for the foreseeable future. We anticipate the following measures will be priorities when it comes time to make permanent changes, and TECHO is ready to provide its expertise in advising on new layouts, working practices and the supply of new products tailored to the new “normal”.
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Permanent workstation (or special measures for hotdesking)
Hotdesking will likely cease to be popular with employees. From a hygiene perspective they will give preference to their own dedicated space. If hotdesking is an operational necessity, frequent disinfection will be necessary (perhaps nightly UV cleansing), or disposable desktop covers used for one day only.
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Furnishings that have been designed for easy and regular disinfection
In recent years we have noted a significant shift in the development of all types of material. New products are much more durable, diverse in style and they can stand up to the demands of operation with strict hygiene conditions.
To a greater degree we will soon be welcoming new furniture made from these advanced materials into our workplaces. However, you don’t have to wait to improve the safety of your workplace – that can be done now. We can adjust your existing office furnishings, making it easier to maintain and reducing health risks.
Easy-to-clean upholstery fabric for chairs and screens:
Have you recently invested in the purchase of good-quality office chairs, screens and upholstered pedestals and you are wondering how to comply with the increased demands for care?
One option is new upholstery using easy to clean fabrics. Products from the firm Camira offer all the advantages of vinyl material and enable a wide range of design solutions. Camira Manila has a pleasing textile appearance, whilst Camira Vita has a polished leather look. Both materials are available in a selection of attractive colours and they provide maximum protection, even in very busy workplaces such as services and healthcare.
Vinyl materials do not include softeners or heavy metals and can be cleaned without damage using standard alcohol-based disinfection products.
A range of fully transparent acrylic-glass dividing screens:
For most of our furniture we use standard laminate, which is easy to keep clean and will not be damaged by alcohol-based products.
In places with high requirements for durability, long service life, hygiene and aesthetic standard for material we recommend the use of high-pressure laminates with a homogenous core covered with melamine resin.
HPL Compact is cut with a diamondedged circular saw and it can be jointed very precisely. We have successfully used HPL Compact boards in all our healthcare projects, but we are ready to offer furniture solutions for high-risk spaces and for your offices.
→ Reduced workstation density, perhaps at the expense of relaxation zones
To ensure long-term social distancing requirements are adhered to major layout adjustments may be required. In many cases workstation spacing can be increased at the expense of the relaxation zones, which may well become a victim of the Covid-safe offi ce measures.
The relaxation zones themselves will need to be reoriented to increase spacing (more easy chairs, fewer sofas, screens to provide barriers.)
→ Flexible layout – easily adaptable to times of increased or decreased worry about virus transmission
If the virus returns on a seasonal basis with the same severity it will be necessary to flexibly adjust office layout to protect employees. During times of high transmission more employees might work from home and those working in the office will increase their distancing from each other. Furniture layouts that can quickly and easily be reconfigured.
The home office
for many it is now a natural work environment, and for companies a tool to regulate occupation density in offices
Home office is also a tool to control office occupancy density (1 day a week, certain roles permanently etc.)
Home office will likely become a tool for regulating the density of office occupation. Employees might be encouraged to work 1 or 2 days a week from home, or perhaps certain functions will be transferred on a permanent basis to the home office environment. In either case it is important for companies to provide home office workers with comfortable, ergonomic and appropriate furnishings so that productivity can be maintained. Particular attention should be paid to seating as most people do not have adequate office seating at home allowing daylong use whist at the same time protecting them from the aches and pains that poor seating and posture leads to. Ensuring that employees are properly equipped to work from home is an integral part of the overall Covid-safe office strategy.