Workers Return to Stranger Offices with Movable Walls and Contactless Elevators | Business
Masked, strapped to desks and unable to recognize colleagues in an elevator, people are beginning to return to offices in cities around the world where the pandemic is receding. Many will also see their offices transformed.
In the challenge of making offices both safe and attractive workplaces for COVID-19, companies experimented with layouts and workspaces while employees worked from home. Some have given up floor space to accommodate less rigid schedules, others have introduced movable walls to create flexible zones. Many safety innovations installed such as contactless elevators and worked to improve air quality.
The lockdowns provided a “fantastic opportunity to create and recreate a new world for each of us, which can be slightly different for each business,” said Neil McLocklin, Knight Frank partner.
Employees of Arcadis, a design and engineering consultancy, will be able to choose one of 20 different workspace types via an app when they move into new offices in the City of London next month. The company’s Building Intelligence app, developed during the pandemic, offers options for focused meeting spaces, work and collaboration, as well as social and wellness spaces such as a winter garden.
The app will help monitor the number of people using different spaces, ensuring that capacity limits designed to prevent the spread of infection are never exceeded. The limit will initially be set at around a third of the company’s 1,200 London office users as it shifts to more working from home. It also means less space is needed: its London office is around 30% smaller than before.
“The app is the critical enabler,” said Mark Cowlard, CEO of Arcadis UK. “It helps us understand when people are using the meeting spaces so that they can be cleaned afterwards.”
At Lloyd’s Building, the iconic home of the 300-year-old insurance market, exterior-clad ventilation ducts inject cool air from the floor upwards and eject it after passing through the floors.
“This way of keeping fresh air in space is the best,” said Ivan Harbor, senior design partner at Rogers Stirk Harbor + Partners, who cut his teeth on the Lloyd’s construction project as a youngster. architect in the 1980s. “Our projects since COVID have really brought that home. “
But ventilation alone is not enough. When the building reopens, face coverings are now mandatory in most cases, with underwriters sitting at desks lined with plexiglass screens and using an app to order their lunch to go.
The importance of making the space accessible and interesting is not lost on HR departments. Getting staff back to the office is already a retention issue: nearly 30% of people said they would look for another job if they had to come back to the office five days a week, according to a global survey by McKinsey & Co.
“It’s like a Rubik’s Cube. You solve so many different things at the same time, ”said Andrea Alexander, associate partner at McKinsey in Houston, who advises some clients to take a team approach so that employees are only expected when their close colleagues are too. . . “It forces you to really think about what are those moments that matter that should be in person.”
Broker CBRE Group Inc. advises its Fortune 500 clients on a range of issues, from short-term concerns about the safety of people to longer-term considerations of what the office of the future should look like, according to Kate Smith, chief of staff. UK workplace
He advises companies on how to “magnetize” their spaces to attract staff, adding perks like live music that people missed most during lockdowns, Smith said.
It assumes that you can actually bring people into your office. HSBC Holdings Plc has removed the executive floor from its headquarters in London as it cuts office space by 40% globally and gives employees more choices for working from home. But in skyscrapers, elevators are the biggest obstacle. Only two people are allowed in an elevator at a time, following government guidelines for social distancing, keeping office capacity at around 3%, according to a company spokesperson.
The coworking industry – believed not too long ago to be on the verge of collapse – is benefiting from the demand for flexibility. Deloitte LLP has moved its entire Manchester UK office to 35,000 square feet (3,250 square meters) in a WeWork building in the city center.
WeWork is also trying to make Zooming a little less two-dimensional, by signing an agreement with ARHT Media Inc. to integrate hologram technology into 16 of its offices around the world.
And little by little, quality equipment is making a comeback in London’s most eccentric offices. At the White Collar Factory in London, up to 30 employees, monitored by a traffic light system, can use the rooftop race track. On WeWork’s UK sites, beer taps reopen after being dry for months to follow government hospitality guidelines.
The experiments are expected to continue, said Kate Smith of CBRE.
“It’s too early for most organizations to see what this means,” she said. “They are in test and learn mode.”