As we emerge from the other side of social distancing restrictions in Western Australia, many employers are contemplating how COVID-19 will impact their workspaces when (or if) staff return to the office.
There will likely be heightened anxiety around workplace sanitation procedures, diminished trust between colleagues' state of health and concern for the very air we breathe during a normal workday.
On the flipside, your workspace could become one of your organisation's greatest assets during this time.
As workspace specialists, MKDC are reflecting on their own work-from-home experiences in order to help clients turn their post-COVID workplaces into workable, anxiety-free spaces that respect the health and wellbeing of others in ways we've possibly been neglectful of—until now.
Workspaces have become hostile ground, but we're working to change this
When social distancing restrictions were tightened in WA late March, many workspaces were suddenly stripped of life, lying dormant as employees retreated to work remotely from the safety of their homes.
MKDC was no different, with the majority of our 16 staff working from home over the past two months. The team took this as an opportunity to better understand the WA business community - how we work, use, adapt and move through spaces so that we're living our best life.
Our team came to realise that workspaces are now seen as hostile, to be feared—responsible for prising workers away from the protection of their homes into infection-prone places.
MKDC are committed to regaining control of this damaging narrative, seeking solutions that will help your workplace survive this crisis and even flourish as a result.
Workplace wellbeing is more important now than ever before
MKDC staff worked remotely for 7 weeks, provoking mixed reactions from everyone.
Director, Kathy Kusinski, reflected on how much she relies on the physical workplace:
"I really enjoy being in the office—it's a space where I find focus and creative flow. It's also a workspace that's been designed specifically for this and I've been able to compare the difference that working-from-home makes to my efficiency."
However, Jacqui Williams, Associate Director, had a different take, stating:
"It's given me a sense of freedom and more space to think. Having choice is a good thing".
One unexpected consequence which was common to all team members was a feeling of isolation and lack of community, impacting negatively on their wellbeing and productivity. The 'magic' just wasn't happening. As their virtual workspaces strengthened, their connection with a physical workspace weakened.
It highlighted the impact that strategically-considered, quality interiors have on human wellbeing, productivity and innovation.
It became obvious for the team that those fleeting 30-second incidental chats at the coffee machine or the spontaneous ideas that might arise out of the usual workday interactions simply ceased to exist using email, zoom and instant messaging.
For this reason, we believe that quality physical workspaces are of the utmost importance—an ally in boosting lowered morales and diminished connectedness.
Herein lies the challenge: creating spaces which support connection and wellbeing while also safely keeping people apart.
How do we achieve this?
We are currently making essential adjustments to safeguard our own workspace. We're encouraging clients to do the same via a staged response. This allows organisations to control costs, respect staff concerns and tread lightly to test new ways of working:
Stage 1 (short-term):
- Put hotdesking on hiatus
- Use plants to separate space and improve air quality
- Remove seating to prompt social distancing
- Add space dividers
- Replace large, shared settings with multiple micro-zones for individuals to work.
- Work out the square metre area of shared office spaces to determine how many staff can safely use them at any one time. For example meeting rooms, print area, collaboration zones, staff hubs and tea areas.
Stage 2 (mid-term):
- Choose easy to clean/anti-bacterial fabrics and surfaces
- Prepare workspace settings to improve comfort while communicating with remote workers by adding additional acoustic attenuation and upscaling your technology.
- Choose furniture and technology that's easy to move away from others
- Improve indoor air quality through adjustments with HVAC systems
Stage 3 (long-term):
- Plan a workspace redesign so it's adaptable to your new way of working.
- Engage an experienced workspace specialist team to help you prepare for potential future challenges
The COVID-19 landscape is fast evolving and disrupting the workplace. Similar to any major disruptor, the impact of this crisis on the workplace—the fast tracking of work-from-home and flexible working life—will demand different approaches depending on culture and workplace strategy.
For 28 years we've worked with Perth clients on adapting workplace strategies to fast-changing external environments, which positions us very well in being able to lead you through what is arguably the biggest disruptor yet.
Now is the ideal time to align your workplace strategy with the imminent changes to daily health and safety protocols.
Call the MKDC office on 9321 7955 and visit us at: mkdc.com.au