Offices across the UK closed in March, and with many businesses having adjusted to new working practices, the focus is now shifting to the next phase - the return. However, travelling to and from the workplace, sitting at your desk, having physical meetings with colleagues, or even making a cup of tea in the kitchen – are simple parts of our daily life that will have to change. The easing of lockdown measures will bring optimism. However, a continuation of social distancing is likely to make the return feel like a marathon rather than a sprint. As such, businesses will need to ensure they adopt the right strategy and right office environment to safeguard workers.

Government guidelines will largely dictate the extent to which businesses and landlords will have to adapt their office space. Through its work on active projects and on-going conversations with clients, the Dthree Studio team have identified some initial factors that will influence plans being made for the short-term and the subsequent ability to open up the office.

EMERGENCY OFFICE REORGANISATION MEASURES

Social distancing has been the main tool to drive down infection rates of COVID-19 and to gain control of the pandemic. As seen in countries who are starting to ease lockdown, social distancing remains in place. Businesses will need to address some immediate office layout reorganisation.

• Analysis of floorplans to calculate a safe maximum occupancy given the current 2-metre distancing rule
• Understand circulation routes, how staff move to the WCs and communal areas, potential crossing points, how risks can be mitigated
• Open banks of desks to feature easy to clean screen dividers between colleagues
• Working rules on use of communal areas such as kitchens, toilets and meeting rooms. Are the materials in these areas easy to clean (worktops for instance) or do they need to be changed?
• How to reduce the risk of crosscontamination at a work setting: employees to use their own laptop, keyboard and mouse and have somewhere these can be safely stored. Regular cleaning of workspaces and hand washing / sanitising points

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MAINTAIN LANDLORD/BUILDING MANAGEMENT DIALOGUE

For most businesses, their office space is within multi-tenanted buildings. This must be factored in when evaluating a return to work; it is, therefore, imperative to maintain a dialogue with building management to understand the measures being taken at a building-level to ensure safety and compliance with your own company expectations. Examples include:

• Entry and exit procedures – avoidance of unnecessary touching of buttons and speed gates etc.
• Increased cleaning and sanitation of communal areas, doors and handles
• Policy on use of lifts and stairs
• Policy on the use of shared amenities with other businesses (reception, cycle storage, showers, WCs, kitchens)

CURRENT AND FUTURE DESIGN AND BUILD PROJECTS

The delivery of projects commenced prior to the lockdown, which had been temporarily halted, have resumed as
our delivery teams and supply chain have adapted. There are several new onsite measures we have put in place to maintain a responsible and ethical working environment, adhering with social distancing rules. These measures allow us to continue to deliver projects for our clients in a manner that keep our staff and supply chain safe; the result is that we are seeing construction programmes lengthening. This is just one consideration that businesses will need to allow for in their projects, whilst also recognising broader disruption of the supply chain to the construction industry.

• Designers and contractors ensuring they are able to adapt the design of projects currently in build stage to accommodate new measures
• Re-evaluation of timelines considering downtime, access to site and new working practices
• Suppliers and manufacturers are also facing their own unique problems and as such this could impact existing and future projects timeframes and costs
• Compilation of a risk register to ensure that any materials from overseas that may be delayed are replaced with a likefor-like product or material that is more readily available. Encouraging designers and supply chain to focus more on British suppliers and manufacturers
• Immediate build works for emergency distancing measures may be subject to significant lead-in times due to availability of teams and materials
• Design work is mainly unaffected due to remote working and availability of teams

FINANCIAL CONSIDERATION

Whether it is for existing projects, alterations to accommodate new ways of working or even looking at those longer-term projects, costs will come under scrutiny. The impact of the current economic environment has the potential to apply pressure on some costs, at a time when businesses will be looking to rein in spending.

CAPEX spends on immediate works to ensure the workplace is ready to open may well be unavoidable for some, especially those in smaller spaces. Yet, it could be an opportunity to reassess the use of space considering successful remote working.

REDESIGNING THE OFFICE

Over the coming weeks and months, we will be poring over the impact of COVID-19 on the design of the office. Working with clients and industry peers to fully appreciate changes to the way in which we utilise the office space and interact with colleagues and customers with whom we were used to spending time with.

The health and wellbeing of the office was already a significant agenda item for businesses, an area that Dthree Studio has majored on in its previous projects. It will now become even more prominent for future schemes. The focus on items such as ventilation, the density of workers in offices and the extent to which sharing, and community spaces are factored in will certainly evolve design. There is also the mental health of employees to be considered when looking at future office design; the missed social interaction that occurs from home working must be weighed against whether employees feel anxious about travelling into the office. The points we have covered here are initial factors that could impact the immediate response for the need to safeguard an office.

The extent of the challenges that some business may face to get their office space ready is one thing, ensuring they are futureproofed is another. As a result, we have been rolling out online workspace consultancy sessions, where the Dthree team will be available to answer questions. As well as the provision of workplace assessments that can help businesses manage their return to work seamlessly and with their long-term goals preserved.

For more information on Dthree Studio and its service, please contact Ben Grave.