The partial and limited move back to the office will almost certainly prevent us from re-establishing our normal routines from before the lockdown. Adhering to the health measures in order to stem the spread of the virus will mean that the occupation of spaces will at first be very limited, with employees wearing masks and keeping physical contact to a minimum. A unique situation which will, where possible, be combined with working from home to allow everyone to come back to the office at least once a week and rediscover services and human interactions. New ways of working will have to be invented in this unprecedented situation. Companies have never had to deal with such a serious health crisis. This means that workspaces have never been conceived to prevent the spread of a possible virus in mind. No organisational structures have been implemented, everything still has to be invented and established so that offices are safer, more adapted and more resilient.
Priority is given to health measures and the safety of the employees
The number one priority in this first stage of moving back to the office is to guarantee the safety of our employees. Many services cannot be guaranteed or are just partially maintained, so that the health measures are adhered to. According to an Ifop study for BNP Paribas Real Estate published in April 2020, 76% of employees wanted to return to the office and agreed that there should be a gradual move back to the office, with the only priority being everyone’s safety. In order to remain productive and efficient, employees have to be confident in the measures that have been implemented by each employer.
It is necessary to limit the concentration of people in the building by spacing out workspaces and ensuring a sufficient distance between individuals. The best arrangement seems to be the “chequerboard” model or a V shape, which both avoid linear or face-to-face arrangements and enforce the 2m2 rule around each employee. The gradual move back to the office and the rotation of the teams remains the best solution for now in ensuring that the distancing regulations are adhered to. The use of signs to mark distances, which have been used in some shops and shopping centres, ensure the application of these rules. Some companies recommend the use of Plexiglas to separate workspaces, which is reminiscent of the 60s cubicle in Jacques Tati’s film Playtime.
The flexible office has proven to be a growing trend over the past few years, allowing employees to have more freedom within the building, it is possible, at least in the short-term, to be able to switch desks throughout the day. Cleaning each space before and after will be essential and spaces must be assigned in order to guarantee spotlessly clean workspaces. Alongside this, continued access to cleaning products should ensure that everyone does their part, cleaning will have to become a daily habit. Shared spaces (meeting rooms, coffee machine, sofas etc.) should be used carefully and sparingly. The psychological repercussions will be different for everyone, it’s everyone’s responsibility to act as respectfully as possible within these spaces.
If we work two to three days a week from our homes, we will see lots of new hybrid spaces popping up, the parameters of which have yet to be invented
Navigating the “post-Covid-19 world of work”
Can things ever go back to the way they once were? The answer seems to be both negative and optimistic. Of course, it will be possible to experience well-being and productivity within the office again but, companies must be on standby for the next crisis. Implementing an organisational model that can preserve what worked well before is crucial, because not everything should be done away with. We can even imagine flexible and transformable spaces which can be reconfigured depending on what they’re used for, but also the circumstances they’re needed for.
Sylvain Hasse Head of Corporate Services says “the question of the interchangeability of workspace is going to rely in the same way on the optimisation of already densely occupied open spaces. Will we go back to assigned workspaces and a more traditional layout? On the contrary! If we work two to three days a week from our homes, we will see lots of new hybrid spaces popping up, the parameters of which have yet to be invented. We’re not just talking about residential spaces, or offices, or hotels, but a mixture of all of these, third places in general. The office building – and this is even truer for headquarters – is in a way the flagship of the company, it’s a place where colleagues, service providers, clients, student apprentices, interns and new recruits can meet. It’s a place that attracts talent and investors; bursting with opportunity. This doesn’t necessarily mean that offices will be smaller, but it does mean that they will be more optimised.”
We can already imagine offices or co-working spaces adapted to every situation; whether that be the growth of a company, a greater need for workspaces, a move or another force majeure situation. “The workspace must contribute to employees’ well-being, because feeling safe depends on physical, cognitive and emotional factors. Solutions based on data and scientific discoveries must be combined with effective technological tools in order to create environments where people can safely interact and adopt new ways of working.”1
Hybridisation of space
The office will remain a cherished meeting place for employees, where informal discussions offer more than video calls. The office is a place of technological innovation, services and training which is always more effective and enjoyable when it’s put into practise. These changes will come alongside a redefinition of what “central” means for the headquarters. The coordination of third places and the working from home could become the norm, allowing a freeing up of space in public transport and give a new meaning to the word mobility. If the office continues to evolve over the coming years, the home office will also have to change in order to create a comfortable work environment at home. It’s not just about changing locations, but also developing new habits and rethinking work organisation as a whole, by confirming what works and bringing in new methods which should work even better.