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Of human resilience

Transitioning to a post-COVID-19 workplace with ease.

Words by Titir Dey, Director- Design, Space Matrix

When Covid19 first emerged to hold the world at ransom six months ago, we faced grim news in the papers and news channels daily. But, in the last two months as nations prepare to open up, the Covid-19 narrative has shifted to one of hope and optimism. We hear this from our clients. We read it everywhere.

Humans are resilient and we have seen a phenomenal ability to adapt to a crisis. With the option to work remotely becoming a norm, people will now have more autonomy over when and where they work; which also means a shift towards better work-life balance and wellbeing. All these changes give companies the leeway to re-evaluate everything about the role of their office space and how it works. Possibilities and opportunities, non-existent or barely conceived prior to the pandemic now offer an intriguing potential to shape the future. We believe that the office will be a destination for the creative mind and a place for socialising and informal knowledge setting. The workplace’s role in driving innovation, wellbeing and furthering social capital will become even more relevant.

Unlock 1.0 has come as a breather for many who were looking forward to returning to work, albeit gradually, in the face of the pandemic. However, in just a matter of weeks, several organizations and their employees have quickly and strategically navigated this sudden shift and are working towards adopting the new normal. All this while maintaining a symbiotic relationship between business continuity and their well-being. Every business is trying to figure out how best to plan, communicate, and transition their workforce into the office while being mindful of the new norms and guidelines. Despite the urge to return to work and engage with colleagues, a Space Matrix study revealed that there is also hesitation around whether an interaction is safe at this point. There are thus two pertinent questions that businesses have: how do we start planning this transition? And what can we do?

Concerns and the need to feel safe are given in times like these. To enable businesses to smoothly transition to the new normal, Space Matrix has created the WORKPLACE REBOOT PROGRAMME. This is a tool kit based on 5 key problem areas and solutions aimed at WORKPLACE READINESS and WORKPLACE REDEFINITION. The holistic programme considers 5 major employee concerns about returning to work and addresses them through the Five-Point Path of design solutions.

Ensuring collaboration with distancing

Some smart planning can smoothen this concern. For instance, employees can be encouraged to work in shifts or a staggered manner. Apart from re-organising the seating arrangements, using hot-desking and ergonomic sitting as workpoints can help in optimizing space. Creating self- sufficient neighborhoods will also ensure there is less movement around the office. Touch points in meeting rooms can be reduced by introducing flexible seating arrangements and shared spaces can have agile plug in screen and elements to define their own boundaries.

Common touchpoints

Another major concern would be surface contamination which can be allayed with the use of antimicrobial agents and paint and materials that enable a safer indoor environment. As mentioned before, the appropriate partitioning of areas and spaces can also ensure that the transfer of microbes is contained. An increased cleaning protocol ensures better hygiene at all the shared points.

Managing crowds and contingency

Despite reduced headcount presence and enhanced cleaning, there could still be situations that would be unpredictable and uncontrollable. The logical solution in such cases would be smart workplace technologies and systems that can generate real-time data around high-density areas in the office. This will help people make informed choices such as deciding whether to be in the office or not.

Safety protocols

There will be a need for cross-organization culture and behavior change. This can be brought about through impactful communication in the form of graphics, floor markings, and catchy signage to remind people that they need to adhere to social distancing norms. Conscious messaging in a subtle way , talking about how every individual is contributing to this betterment and are in this together, helps to bring positivity and optimism in the overall environment. Clear demarcation of entry/exit points in high-traffic areas will ensure a unidirectional flow of people. Teams will need to be sensitized about best practices related to hygiene and why it is a must to follow those practices. The long spell of isolation, uncertainty about the future, and the need to return to work amidst the pandemic are causing a lot of stress and anxiety among people. Sustainability and wellness solutions and the integration of biophilic elements, soft subtle music can address these factors. A softer touch in the work environment turns it into a more relaxed, comfortable, and productive area.

Remember, we are not out of the woods yet, but the light at the end of the tunnel may just be beginning to show. After having spent months in the stressful environments of home isolation, such rejuvenating and hygienic workspaces, which make the individual feel safe, trusted and valued, would go a long way in reviving the productivity and morale of the employees.

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