Workplace or facilities managers must future-proof workstations but the uncertainty of the post-Covid office will make it a challenging task, says Stephen Roberts.
The pandemic has brought about changes that will have a lasting effect on workplace environments.
Working from home and the use of technology to enable remote collaboration requires new FM strategies; the question is, how can the sector ensure office environments adapt when we are still unsure what employers or employees will need?
Flexible layouts for flexible teams
In the Covid era, workplace layouts will need to be reconfigured to enable social distancing. Installing a power track system – using busbar technology rather than hard wiring – is the ideal way to build flexibility into office environments, allowing easier and faster reconfiguration to adapt to the ‘new normal.’
Installed within the floor void, a power track system works on a plug-and-play basis, enabling electrical distribution networks to be reconfigured or adapted quickly and easily as required.
‘Tap-offs’ can be located anywhere along the length of the power track at 30-centimetre intervals, enabling power to be taken up through a floor box or grommet to any location allowing versatile workstation placement. They can be relocated or increased in number at any time so – as more desks are added back into the environment or we return to cellularised offices in preference to open-plan layouts – installing localised access to power is fast, easy and cost-effective.
For environments where uninterrupted electrical networks are mission-critical, such as the banking or contact centre sectors, for example, specification of a Standard Earth and Clean Earth (CE) low noise dual power track system is the ideal solution. This offers all the same versatility for reconfiguring the office environment as a standard power track installation, while enabling rapid switching to a UPS back-up for added resilience.
Versatility for shallow floor voids
It is sometimes assumed that older office buildings, where the floor void is often more shallow or of inconsistent depth, are not suitable for power track installations but an alternative power distribution system can still be used to bring increased versatility to these environments.
A power hub system can be used on a similar plug-and-play basis, with up to six tap-offs per hub unit. The units can be placed in any location within floor voids as shallow as 50mm and are connected via umbilicals to provide power to the required location via a floor box or grommet.
For example, CMD has supplied a hub system for a grade II listed office building in Holborn, comprising a 32A power hub system with four tap-offs per hub. The void has been sealed under an engineered wooden floor, but maintenance or modifications can be carried out via grommets.
New layouts, working practices and tech also mean that under-desk power will need to be more flexible if workplace environments are going to be agile enough to keep pace with user requirements.
Use of a modular under-desk system that connects to the underfloor power distribution network via a floor box or grommet provides flexibility by enabling additional sockets to be added on a plug-and-play basis, along with circuit protection.
A modular under-desk power system, for example, uses busbar technology to provide sockets that can be oriented in any direction on a 3,60° basis, maximising versatile workstation and electrical device placement, often without changes to the underfloor distribution network. Installation of an under-desk system like this also allows upscaling of occupancy or electrical devices as and when required.
It’s a strategy for future flexibility and resilience that has been implemented at the London HQ of a major bank, where CMD supplied dual UPS-backed power track networks for three trading floors. Each desk has six modular under-desk power module systems and custom-manufactured changeover switches, which were installed below the desks for manual switching between the UPS networks to ensure resilience for trading activities.
Change has always been constant in the office sector and the challenge for FM following the pandemic is to consider what can be learned from uncertainty to enhance the flexibility of building services.
Stephen Roberts is head of sales at power, connectivity and ergonomics specialist CMD Ltd