By Danielle Moore
Channel Marketing Manager, Archibus
SpaceIQ

The United States recently passed a year since the original shelter-in-place and work-from-home orders came with the onset of COVID-19. Today, once-teeming offices look quite different. Some companies still haven’t reopened. Those that have gone back have done so with emphasis on new policies and procedures to keep employees as safe as possible.

For many companies, the hiatus from office work or a soft return to the workplace opened the door for introspection. Namely, COVID-19 created opportunities to tackle capital projects without disrupting operations.

Not only has COVID-19 allowed businesses to make workplace improvements unabated it has also had a major influence on the types of projects companies are investing in. With the promise of mass vaccinations inching closer, employees may find themselves coming back to a workplace that looks and feels fundamentally different from the one they left.

The need for capital improvements

For many businesses, COVID-19 shutdowns presented an opportunity to start on projects already on the docket. Many of these projects were likely put off because of potential disruptions to normal workflow. For example, it is difficult to repave the employee parking lot or remodel the lobby when these spaces see daily use. Remote work instantly removed the primary obstacle: traffic.

Other capital improvements might be proactive, yet timely. For example, retrofitting the HVAC system in an old building becomes much more important when you consider the spread of COVID-19 through respiratory droplets and its ability to live in the air for three hours or more. Instead of putting this upgrade off for another few years, it becomes a clear and present priority.

And, of course, there’s the workplace itself to consider. It has becoming increasingly clear that work won’t be the same in a post-COVID-19 world. Companies have pivoted to adapt their workplace to bring back employees safely. But this is only a stopgap measure. Real change needs to support new work habits, which is urging many companies to think long-term and make capital improvements that redefine the workplace.

COVID-19 influences permanent workplace changes

There’s been ample opportunity for companies to reimagine their workplaces. In doing so, many have undertaken renovation projects in the wake of empty or partially staffed offices. Their focus? Creating floor plans and workstations that support new modes of work.

Close quarters are a thing of the past—as are tight conference rooms and space-deficient corner offices. For many companies, remodeling focuses on opening space and redefining how employees interact with and use space. Social distancing is now a mainstay, which means opening up the workplace to avoid cramped quarters and individual room occupancy limits. Some common remodeling changes trending in the workplace include:

  • More open spaces, for free flowing yet socially distant navigation
  • Hotel desking and rooms governed by reservation and bookings
  • Changes to floor plans to allow for navigability and better workplace flow
  • Different desking types, including standing, mobile, and minimalist
  • Partitions and moveable dividers to create makeshift enclosures

These changes all require some degree of renovation to make them a reality. Without employees relying on the space, it’s been much easier for companies to make these changes quickly and effectively. More important, it allows companies to make changes the right way—changes that’ll root the future of workplace operations.

Workplace improvements show a commitment

Companies taking advantage of COVID-19 closures to firm up the workplace of the future have put themselves in a hugely beneficial position. Not only have they shown a commitment to employee safety, but they’ve also proven themselves forward-looking and accepting of new workplace norms. Instead of sitting idly during the pandemic, proactive companies have realized the many opportunities of undertaking workplace improvements:

  • Improved health and safety standards for employees
  • Reduced liability from controlled remodeling
  • More efficient space utilization and floor planning
  • Accessible desking concepts for flex workers
  • Cost savings through better lease administration
  • Increased ROI from facilities as a managed asset

There are substantial benefits in upgrading the workplace, made even more pronounced by the idea that we’re going through a paradigm shift in work. Committing to evolving with the situation instead of after it instills confidence in employees. When the day finally does come to return to the workplace, they’ll find an environment already adapted to suit them.

Promote a seamless return to work

The past year has been jarring for employees. They’ve left behind a familiar workplace and adapted to remote work. Now, just as they’re getting settled, they might be coming back—but not to the same workplace. It’s another change of scenery and another period of transition. Employers need to be mindful of the disruption this can cause and take steps to support employees.

Welcome workers back slowly and help them get accommodated. Encourage social-emotional leadership from management and make it easy for employees to get settled. In the case of new desking concepts like hoteling, training is paramount.

Above all, the simplest thing an employer can do is to be communicative. Keep employees apprised of workplace changes and give them an opportunity to ground themselves. The workplace may look different post-COVID-19, but it should also feel more welcoming, supportive, and accessible.

Keep reading: COVID-19 Workplace Resources