The office environment we know may become a thing of the past after Coronavirus. Donna Bulmer, Managing Partner of Haines Watts North East and Yorkshire discusses how modern offices might adapt post-Covid-19.
As business owners have helped their teams adapt to social distancing and remote-working due to the Covid-19 lockdown, it’s hard to know what the new normal will look like.
It is clear that we will all have to find ways of operating with more distancing over a longer period of time and this could result in a new location strategy for many businesses.
The notion of sending thousands of people back to a manufacturing plant or high-rise office building is not going to happen overnight. There cannot be a light switch response. Even when the UK lockdown is lifted, social distancing will most likely create new limits on the number of workers that can return to an office at any one time.
There are a number of things business owners need to think about during this transitional phase.
Environmental and behavioural change
Offices will need to be designed around helping limit the spread of infection, so the open-plan office as we know it could become a thing of the past. How we think about our workplace will no doubt be the biggest change of all. There has been a boom in co-working spaces and hot-desking in recent years, but coronavirus is now forcing business owners to rethink whether they want their entire team in one place. Co-working was about increasing social interaction and breaking down barriers between teams, but suddenly that’s not as tempting any more. While none of us want to go back to working behind closed doors or see a resurgence of cubicles, the working environment must change again.
Safety, health and wellbeing
Furniture will need to be altered too as social distancing measures are introduced in the office meaning workers will not sit as closely together. There could also be a reduction in the maximum occupancy for lifts to minimise overcrowding and glass shields installed at reception areas. In the short-term, businesses will need to ensure employees have PPE, particularly if they are travelling to work on public transport. They will also need to stagger lunchbreaks to avoid gatherings. In the future, breakout areas could become a thing of the past and meeting rooms will be cordoned off too. Contactless pathways might be the norm too, so workers don’t have to press buttons or touch keypads.
It’s not just the built environment that will have to change though. Business owners will also have an even greater responsibility to look after their employees mental and physical wellbeing. It’s vital that you keep the communication lines open with workers about the decision process because there is going to be so much change.
Procurement and financial considerations
As a business owner, you’re going to need to consider whether it’s necessary to postpone, cancel or find an online means of holding internal or supplier-facing events for some time. This is likely to affect your suppliers, disrupting orders and making it difficult to meet with key individuals to carry out site visits. There is also a risk that if the relaxed payment terms and interest-free loans don’t work, it could lead to supplier bankruptcies. Business owners will need to source alternative products if this happens, so it is wise to plan for this so you at least have options in an emergency situation.
Ongoing management and workplace evolution
With coronavirus expected to have a dramatic impact on the health of the global economy for months to come, it has made business owners dust off their continuity plans and rethink how they do things. Chances are some of the latest lockdown practices will stick and we could see even more remote working.
Business owners might also start to rethink those cross-country trips for their workers because a flight, overnight stay with dinner and drinks no longer offers economic returns. It will also be hard to justify commercial real estate costs if a workforce can operate from home without productivity loss.
One thing is for certain, the lasting impact of Coronavirus has changed the definition of “business as usual” forever.