Less hot-desking, screens for receptionists and unisex superloos are some of the ways that office experts predict Covid-19 will transform the workplace, says a study by the British Council for Offices.
A paper by the council – the representative body for the UK’s office sector – outlines how the workplace could alter as a result of Covid-19, and how Britain can safely return to work in the coming weeks and months.
Written by the industry experts on the BCO’s technical affairs committee, it notes that “desk sharing is likely to become very unpopular”, however, the practice will remain possible if desks are frequently and intensely cleaned.
Throughout, the research states the importance of hygiene and the need to adhere to social distancing while the virus is still active within society.
Ideally, the paper states, offices will feature adaptations that allow for Britain’s new reality, including:
• The introduction of screens to protect receptionists from potentially virus-carrying visitors.
• The replacement of gendered communal toilets with pod-based ‘superloos’ that feature touchless doors, taps and soap dispensers.
• An increase in bike storage, as workers are more likely to ditch public transport’s commuter crowds in favour of cycling.
• Limits on the number of people who can occupy a space, use a meeting room or share a lift at any one time.
• It bodes an end to communal cutlery, coffee pots and water bottles.
• Ventilation and humidification systems that create environments to mitigate against viral transmission will be adopted.
The experts also speculate about the introduction of tech-based ‘smart solutions’. Workplaces might introduce “apps for location-based reminders to use hand sanitiser, to wash hands, or to clean desks, laptops and other technology devices”, while more “‘out there’ apps” could monitor face touching.
Neil Pennell, chair of the BCO technical affairs committee, said: “Covid-19 has had a significant impact on how we work. While we do not know when we will all be back in the workplace, it’s important to start planning ahead. Adaptations can ensure that the risk of virus transmission is reduced and can accommodate our new reality, enabling us all to gain the real benefits that come from working in an office while ensuring we are safe.”
Richard Kauntze, chief executive of the BCO, said: “Working from home has provided an effective temporary measure for business, but it is not an effective long-term solution for how we work. We are social beings and we work best together, in an office. When we’re together we share ideas, draw inspiration from each other and form valuable, long-term relationships. Covid-19 will alter the future of work, however, the office will remain at the heart of this future.”
The paper, entitled Thoughts on Office Design and Operation After Covid-19, is free to BCO members and non-members and available to download now.
• Separately, Ashley Lawrence, head of interiors at workplace consultancy Crown Workspace, believes that the pandemic will have a significant impact on what will make employees feel happy and safe at work.
He said: “The recent trend in the workspace has been all about hot-desking and open offices, but businesses may now have to think about what people will want when we all, eventually, get back to work after the lockdown.
“It's going to be a bitter pill to swallow for some employers because a lot of money has been spent on the hot-desking project, but I think they will find they won't have a choice but to make changes if they want to keep their best talent.
“When people have been used to social distancing and staying two metres apart, the idea of going into an office and sharing a desk space with dozens of colleagues is going to feel like a daunting challenge.”
He said the pandemic is going to have “a big influence on office design one way or another” and as a result designers are likely to be “looking for smooth surfaces, without patterns or ridges, that are easy to clean. There will be more use of laminates and of high-tech carpets which don’t cling on to dust and germs”.
Lawrence says compromises could include:
•Extended height wipeable privacy screens to protect workstations;
•Using desk materials with antibacterial properties that are easy to clean and maintain;
•Setting up a cleaning system so that desks are regularly sanitised, and having the equipment available for self-cleaning prior to use;
•Clear desk policies making cleaning quicker and more efficient;
•Baseless monitor mounts, so there are fewer bacteria traps;
•Advanced, properly maintained air conditioning such as ultraviolet systems;
•Fresh natural air, and more use of office plants and windows; and
•A reduction of wasted space and planning the office so there is less front-on working, using a zigzag formation.