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How to Update Your Office and Collaboration Style Post-Covid

October 14, 2020

Work looks a little different today than it did a year ago. Whether you're still remote, working in a hybrid model, or fully returning to the office there are two things on everyone's mind: how to work safely and how to communicate effectively. Here's what you should consider in each situation. 

Work From Home

Many businesses have spent at least some time as fully remote during the pandemic. 

What You Should Know About Collaboration

Collaboration in a fully remote environment definitely looks a little different, but it can still be effective with a little effort. 

  • Define collaboration tools: Your employees will need to know how to communicate with each other--especially as many are beginning to work asynchronous hours in order to balance their responsibilities at home and at work. 
  • Retain scheduled check-ins: If you had any previously scheduled check-ins for your team, now is not the time to get rid of them. Even a brief chat will help teams feel more connected.
  • Get out of the silo: There's a lot more opportunity for accidental collaboration between teams in an office setting. When you go remote, you should consider setting up regular inter-team meetings to help reduce siloing. 

Changes to the Home Office

When work and home are the same place, your employees are going to need to make some changes to their workspace. 

  • Pay attention to ergonomics: Most office spaces are outfitted with office furniture that's ergonomically designed to reduce injury. But during the pandemic employees have had to make do with what they have and it's rarely designed with ergonomics in mind. If you plan on being a fully remote company for the long term, consider offering your employees ergonomically designed seating and desk options to use in their homes. 
  • Keep sensitive information private: If your employees work with sensitive information, it may be more difficult to protect them in a work from home environment. Consider outfitting your employees with filing and storage options that lock. 
  • Share the inspiration with your employees: Help your employees plan a great workspace in their homes by sharing home office inspiration

Hybrid

A hybrid schedule may be the first step in bringing everyone back to the office. Businesses who choose hybrid typically either bring some employees back full-time while encouraging others to remain remote or they bring everyone back part-time in staggered shifts. No matter how you approach it, a hybrid approach means supporting both in-person and remote workers. 

What You Should Know About Collaboration

Collaboration in a hybrid environment means you should expect some participants to be physically present and some to be virtually present. 

  • Include remote participants: Remote participants may miss out on the non-verbal cues we typically use to understand different layers of meaning. Use video technology to help remote participants feel more included. 
  • Ensure multiple ways of viewing documents: It may be difficult for remote participants to view documents within a video chat. Be sure to send all relevant materials out to the group before the meeting beings. 
  • Provide one-on-one meeting spaces: When all your employees were in-person it was easy for two people to huddle at a desk and have a quick meeting. Now that some are in the office and some are not, you'll need to provide spaces where your physically present employees can have private conversations with virtual employees. 

Changes to the Office

Updating your office to support both in-person and remote workers means your space will need to do double duty. Here's what to consider. 

  • Include more technology: Screens, video conference systems, and noise-canceling technology will help make it easier for in-person and remote workers to collaborate with each other.
  • Take advantage of reduced capacity: With fewer people physically present in the office, now is an ideal time to create more large, open spaces that can serve both as lounge areas and larger group meeting space. 
  • Reduce fabric surfaces: Fabric surfaces are important as a noise-blocking too, but they can be harder to keep clean than other smooth surfaces. Consider replacing these with easy-to-clean surfaces like glass, laminate, or steel wherever practical. 
  • Go touchless: Use touchless options like automatic lights, keyless entry, and voice-activated elevator controls. 

Full Return

Most businesses have an ultimate goal of making a full return to the office. While the ability to work remotely has been key in weathering the COVID-19 pandemic, the opportunities for collaboration, the ingrained culture, and the human connections we get from the office space are irreplaceable. No matter when you plan for a full return, there are some things you should keep in mind. 

What You Should Know About Collaboration

Today's collaboration doesn't look like it did a year ago. Even though you may be in the same office, you'll still want to take care to limit the number of people present in a meeting and ensure they're able to distance themselves from each other. 

  • Create clear rules around collaboration spaces: Not all collaboration spaces will be safe for groups of all sizes. Be sure to create clear expectations around how many people can use a space in order to allow for some distancing. 
  • Maintain some virtual meeting tools: While it's true that all your employees are physically present, it may still be simpler to have a quick virtual meeting in order to avoid working through the safety logistics of meeting face to face. A bonus of keeping these tools in place is that you're prepared if the virus rates worsen in your area and you're forced to go virtual again. 

How You Can Update Your Office 

Bringing your employees back to the office may mean making some updates to your interior. 

  • Update lounge and break areas: Consider removing all couches and communal tables. You can replace them with seating for a single person and space them at least six feet apart. 
  • Embrace the outside: If you have access to outdoor space consider converting it to a collaboration space, a workspace, or a lounge space. Outdoor spaces can be extremely valuable in increasing productivity and creativity and are considered safer than indoor spaces by COVID-19 experts. 
  • Update your unenclosed spaces: These big, open spaces used to be great for lounge areas, but in today's world they may be the only place where it's safe to have a larger group meeting. Consider updating them with collaboration tools so they can become multipurpose areas. 
  • Reduce fabric surfaces: Fabric surfaces are important as a noise-blocking too, but they can be harder to keep clean than other smooth surfaces. Consider replacing these with easy-to-clean surfaces like glass, laminate, or steel wherever practical. 
  • Go touchless: Use touchless options like automatic lights, keyless entry, and voice-activated elevator controls. 

Support Flexibility

No matter what option you choose, we all know that the pandemic situation remains fluid. Just because you're in-person right now that doesn't mean you won't need to go hybrid or virtual at some point. You may also need to give working parents the flexibility to work from home if their child's school or daycare closes or has virtual days. When you're making updates to your office be sure you're always thinking about how you can support a virtual workforce if that becomes necessary.  

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we work—possibly forever. The good news is that McWaters is here to support you as you change and adapt to the new normal. Just reach out to us and we'll be happy to set up a consultation to help you navigate COVID-resilient interiors. 

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