UK PM, Boris Johnson has called for workers to return to work – even if they have to force their employers to allow it.
However, a survey involving 8000 adult workers reveals Brits are the most reluctant nation in Europe to return to the office. There are valid concerns that a second wave of the novel coronavirus is imminent.
The COVID-19 pandemic has raised unprecedented challenges for thousands of businesses around the globe. Now lockdown restrictions have been lifted, UK organisations are faced with the challenge of creating a safe working environment for employees.
Key features of modern office designs should include flexible working spaces that enable workers to perform multiple tasks. Whilst desk sharing will inevitably be kept to a minimum, self-cleaning furniture could provide a solution that fosters safety whilst promoting agility, collaboration and productivity.
COVID-Safe Office Furniture
Traditional office designs have been identified as a hotbed for the spread of disease. Studies show that poor office designs contribute to high levels of workplace absenteeism.
A 2017 study found that a third of UK employees are dissatisfied with the cleanliness of their office environment and believe common germs makes them feel ill.
Self-cleaning furniture and UV lighting that eliminates more anti-microbial bacteria than typical cleaning fluids could help reduce the number of lost days due to sickness. Scientists anticipate ultraviolet LEDs can also be an effective defence against the SARS-CoV-2 virus,
Interior office design consultants have also identified office furniture made from fabrics soaked in anti-microbial solutions as a potential solution. Together with foot-operated hand sanitiser stations and personal protective equipment, employers have the opportunity to meet government protocols to improve sanitisation.
Screens and Storage
Striking a balance between COVID-safe environments and calls from employees to have more autonomy about where and how they work will mean the disappearance of shared computers in favour of laptops and personal mobile devices such as tablets.
Desks should also be fitted with three-way “sneeze screens” that prevent the spread of germs in sneezes, cough and saliva. The novel coronavirus can survive for up to 72 hours on glass and perspex so staff or deep cleaning services should be deployed to clean workstations immediately after use.
Installing personal lockers in a spare room or under desks will also protect personal items from harbouring COVID-19 and other bacteria that cause illness.
Private Office Pods
Employees want to see other features that protect their health and wellbeing as well. Workplace absenteeism is not only caused by physical illness but also mental illness.
High levels of noise in a typical office environment has been cited as a major cause of mental illness. A cacophony of sound creates distractions which impact productivity and increases stress levels.
Installing quiet zones with comfortable seating can help employees find distraction-free workstations. Breakout spaces also add to the aesthetics of an office and make the workplace feel more homely.
Sound-proof office pods and meeting capsules also keep noise levels to a minimum. Acoustically-enhance pods are designed to either deflect or absorb sound and can be erected around zones which are designed to foster collaboration.
There is little doubt that the majority of businesses have to address the office layout and create a workplace that entices employees back to work. But more importantly, office furniture that helps provide a sense of security will be a key factor.