I think it goes without saying that none of us truly knows what the future will hold. Our teams at bkm have been hard at work reading and digesting as much information as we can to form an opinion about what to do next. We believe our findings can lend some guidance to our customers and serve as a real-life case study within our own organization to make the return to work safe, effective and — crossing our fingers — with minimal disruption.

As the CEO of Steelcase, Jim Keane proclaimed in the Steelcase white paper ‘The Post COVID Workplace’, the one certainty is that employees will not return to a workspace they deem as unsafe. The dominant message is clear: spaces will need to be modified to meet the needs of their employees while limiting the spread of infection. What these spaces look like next week may be very different from how they look next year and will undoubtedly require a reinvention. The 6 Feet Office conceptual idea put together by Cushman & Wakefield with data compiled from the World Health Organization and advice of medical experts has visualized an entire concept around what they refer to as the new golden rule: “the 6 feet rule.” If this concept isn’t going away any time soon, it is time for us to adapt by ensuring distance while working safely together.

So where do we go from here? Our bkm team has compiled a list of recommendations that are meant to serve as quick fixes and suggestions for the near term, to enable our customers to get back to work quickly and adapt proactively to what may come in the future.

Quick wins:

Space Division & Screens: With “social distancing” becoming the phrase of 2020, doing so at the office remains difficult. Over the last few years, open floor plans and increased density have become more widely adopted as companies continually try to maximize their real estate investments.  Fortunately, there are some quick and flexible solutions. When making a purchase decision, it’s important and always in our clients’ best interest to solve for short-term concerns with solutions that can be reprocessed in the future. Space division options like Steelcase Flex not only allow for flexible space division but the easy-to-clean, writable surface and lightweight board also promote agile work environments and team collaboration in the future, should the virus become less of a concern down the road. A few of our other favorites are listed below.

Additionally, reduced density and a move back to a single-use “my space” model vs. a hoteling and shared desks “our space” strategy will become increasingly important.

A Focus on Cleaning & Materials: Frequent cleaning and making use of cleanable materials and antimicrobial options in shared spaces have become increasingly important. Cleaning needs

to be highly visible in order to put people at ease. Mobile Carts for Sanitation Supplies can easily be located throughout office areas and meeting rooms. Mobile caddies like Steelcase Soto can nestle under work surfaces to keep sanitation supplies at desks. Finally, wall-mounted sanitation stations at the entrance/exit points of rooms help keep the spread of viruses at bay.

Surface materials will become a key decision in office design. Materials that can withstand frequent cleaning with commercial cleaning products without degrading will help justify material selection grades. Smooth surfaces and bleach-cleanable fabrics like those from Designtex will be other key considerations during finish selection meetings for the foreseeable future.

Telework & Technology: As we have all learned over the last few weeks, COVID-19 has proven that technology is truly woven into our everyday world. Pre-COVID-19, the vast majority of workspaces were slow to adopt brilliant collaborative software, and conference platforms such as Zoom, GotoMeeting, Microsoft Teams, and WebEx. As governments across the world implemented travel restrictions and stay at home orders, the world embraced software that lives in the cloud and can be accessed from virtually anywhere — whether it is used on a mobile phone, tablet, laptop or home workstation. Rapid user adoption has become imperative and has resulted in enhanced productivity. Tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams have quickly taught us that not every matter requires an old fashioned formal email, or a phone call.

According to Adam Chavez, Design Engineer for bkm’s AV and Technology Division, COVID-19 has pushed technology 5+ years ahead of where it would have been through a natural technology evolution. The idea of working from home has never been received with such high praise, and I believe many old fashioned taboos of ‘work cannot be completed at home’ will be shattered. Chavez elaborates that when companies return to work in the near future, the integration of user-friendly collaboration systems and video conferencing will be even more relevant, and will quickly shift from a business want to a business need. Workspaces are going to adapt to a “connect with anyone, anywhere on-the-fly approach.” At bkm we are already seeing the need for professional sounding audio and video both in and out of the office and our teams are on site installing already to prepare our customers for a return to work. Additionally, space analytics from data collected from subscription services like Steelcase Workplace Advisor will help businesses make more informed decisions about how their space is or is not working effectively for their organization. In the short term, many small to large companies may want to take advantage of “temperature check stations” when entering the building to help ensure the well-being of visitors and employees. These systems can be very cost effective, and implemented in small to large scale with minimal infrastructure requirements and training needs. These new stations, are adaptable and can be moved around to any location, making it easy to safely take temperatures anywhere in your facility.

Visual Cues & Space Assessment: Visual cues will become more prominent and increasingly important throughout the workspace to help define workplace behaviors and remind users how to interact with the space and each other. From social distancing protocol floor decals to printable branded signage posted throughout your facility, visual cues and reminders will become more prominent. Our design team has always provided space assessment services to analyze our customers’ space, and now the extra step will be for us to recommend how a space can be tailored and retrofitted to support appropriate post-COVID interactions. While we have always helped our bkm customers develop protocols, we will work with our customers to create new protocol books to give to your employees as they return to the office focused on CDC guidelines, new social behaviors and safe ways to interact at the office and a place to identify your customers’ personal positions. New rules will be written and our team has been more involved with human resources chiefs during the design phase than we ever have been in the past, says Jennifer Evans, bkm’s Director of Design. “Design has quickly become a safety issue and much more personal for our customers given the current climate.”

Be flexible, Expect Change, Be Patient and Stay Positive.

There is no doubt that this pandemic will have a lasting and profound effect on our lives, how we see the world and how we work. Some of those changes will be difficult but others will be for the better. How we work together will improve. As Tracy Brower notes in a recent Forbes article, nothing is more significant in creating bonds between teammates than a common enemy, and the coronavirus struggle is a perfect example of what will strengthen relationships.

What is happening today will ensure that we take steps to prevent something similar in the future. Innovation will flourish, creative problem-solving will be discovered, and pro-active approaches to overcome todays struggles will become commonplace. We have all had the opportunity to witnesses the ability of companies and employees to adapt to change quickly. This proves to us that change can happen quickly throughout organizations around the world and will help companies remain nimble and pivot in the future when required.

As always, our team at bkm is here to help you navigate these changes as your trusted partner along the way. Click here to start a conversation with one of our Post-COVID Workplace Consultants.