Preparing Your Workplace Building Systems for Reopening
As shared spaces reopen, organizations are making some important decisions about their corporate real estate. Unlike other premises, such as shops and schools, offices can manage their returns slowly and carefully. Staff that can work from home may not return to the office full-time for months, or at all.
This places office managers in a unique position. While they are able to learn from the actions and advice of other organizations, they must also recognise that a poorly managed re-opening will likely lead to employees remaining at home or feeling isolated when at the office. As a result, employers will miss out on any benefit of having a central workplace.
Creating safe and inspiring places
A number of surveys carried out over the past 12 months have found that the majority of workers would prefer to continue working from home several days each week. Rather than taking for granted that a central office is an expensive necessity, employers have taken time to consider exactly what the workplace offers. The focus of the workplace after the pandemic will be to offer what remote working cannot: quiet, focus spaces with ergonomic setups, and spaces from collaborative teamwork. The latter, particularly, has been lost during the pandemic and is a major reason that employers want to encourage staff to return. However, poorly designed space will not make this work any more possible than video calls have.
Using the right precautions
The precautions against Covid that many of us have become used to when grocery shopping, are designed to keep individuals at a distance and minimize interaction. Social distancing, face masks, and plastic screens all serve a purpose, but they are not realistic long-term solutions in the workplace. Certainly, social distancing and mask-wearing will have a part to play in the return to the office but building managers should be finding ways to keep their sites safe indefinitely, particularly as this may not be the last pandemic to hit.
Improving building systems
Those in the workplace sector are looking for ways to heighten safety precautions while also promoting other important factors such as wellbeing and comfort, efficiency, and the environment. Disposable face masks promote safety but come at a cost of comfort, cost, and sustainability.
However, we are increasingly seeing developments that do not come at such a compromize. Improving building systems are playing a central role in this process. Scientific advisors are recommending that schools improve ventilation in classrooms. Work in this area is highly relevant to those in the workplace.
HVAC systems in schools
Schools are busy places that rely upon collaborative work and interaction. Over the course of a day, students will come into contact with many others and may interact with shared touchpoints such as light switches, desks, and door handles. Office work holds a lot in common with schools but has more control over the way space is used and what capacity is safe to work at. Social distancing, face masks, and plastic screens all serve a purpose, but they are not realistic long-term solutions in the workplace.
An advantage that many workplaces have over public schools is the resources to invest in more sophisticated technology such as sensor-responsive HVAC systems. The Internet of Things (IoT) model for connected technological systems was increasing in popularity before the pandemic. Its growth will undoubtedly accelerate. Many organizations have already invested in occupancy sensors and digital thermometers to aid safety precautions. Connecting this tech to wider systems via the IoT can streamline workplace efficiency. Ventilation systems that are responsive to site occupancy can be used to improve workplace comfort and safety as efficiently as possible. While such systems may come at an initial cost, they can provide significant savings in the long term.
They also offer opportunities to create greener workplaces. New investment in carbon-capture technology can remove 10m/t of CO2 from the UK environment every year up to 2030. Based on data produced by the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers, every 1,000 sq ft of office space used is the equivalent to a carbon footprint of 91t C02 a year. Therefore, if workplace sensor technology was applied across all workplaces in the UK, more than 2.4m tonnes of C02 could be saved annually by making office use more efficient.
While offices are still fully or partially closed, organizations should take the opportunity to review their systems and invest in options that can improve the workplace experience. The pandemic has been an opportunity for employers and staff alike to reprioritize. Workplaces are no longer taken for granted as a ‘necessary evil’. Rather, both their strengths and weaknesses have been clearly highlighted. The work that building owners and managers put into creating safe and inspiring workplaces will reflect their investment in their workforce.