Open spaces, no meeting rooms, fewer employees, one person at a time, marking out spacing with sticky tape, no cafeteria, no sharing computers — these are some of the new workplace norms companies across are trying to bring in.
All these years, progressive organisations across the world were redesigning workplace interiors for employees to feel more at home. But post the coronavirus outbreak and lockdown, the reverse is happening — companies are now having to ensure that employees’ homes are more workplace-like!
That was just the first set of changes. The next set is expected to take place after lockdown is lifted and professionals start returning to workplaces. Things will certainly not be like before, and social distancing will be on top of people’s minds for a few months to a year, till the time the COVID-19 scare is eliminated.
Companies with huge employee strength will face challenges, as it will be a difficult task to maintain social distancing between employees. For those planning to keep distances between the seats, the number of employees turning up for work will need to be reduced
Organisations today are striving hard to redesign their work spaces to be able to maintain social distancing and adapt to the new normal. From changes in architecture and interiors, to seating arrangements, what the workplace scenario should be like after lifting of lockdown is still being brainstormed and planned at many organisations.
Running multiple shifts, working on alternate days and rearrangement of workspaces, including meeting rooms, to ensure safety of the limited number of employees present at any time are just some of the measures being considered.
As the uncertainty will continue to exist even after the lockdown comes to an end, companies such as Tech Mahindra are choosing to be more cautious rather than go overboard in getting employees back to the office.
To comply with the social distancing norms, Harshvendra Soin, CHRO, Tech Mahindra, says, “We have ensured that areas are marked within the office premises, inside the lift and even in the washrooms, where only one employee will be allowed at one point of time.”
Many companies are planning to mark arrows on the floor, and also ensure that employees are only allowed to walk clockwise or anticlockwise in lanes around the office – the same rule doctors and nurses use in hospitals to avoid spreading bugs.
Likewise, companies such as Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages (HCCB) have also considered redesigning their workplace once offices reopen.
Indrajeet Sengupta, CHRO, HCCB, says, “From seating arrangements to more open spaces, the way offices were earlier designed will be completely changed now.”
Considering the fact that social distancing will remain the norm, the beverage company is planning to create more open spaces, so that employees can maintain a fair distance at any given point.
We have ensured that areas are marked within the office premises, inside the lift and even in the washrooms, where only one employee will be allowed at one point of time
Many companies, such as Amazon, are already using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) software to monitor the distances maintained between their warehouse staff. These tools will flag warnings in real time when expected behaviours deviate from a certain standard and cause aberrations.
If not AI, companies will probably have to make regular announcements during work hours or put up posters all around the office, reminding employees to maintain the requisite distance while working.
Highlighting a similar aspect of maintaining social distancing, former CHRO, Anuranjita Kumar, says, “Companies with huge employee strength will face challenges, as it will be a difficult task to maintain social distancing between employees. For those planning to keep distances between the seats, the number of employees turning up for work will need to be reduced.”
As hygiene factors will take a different shape and dimension, Kumar believes that cleanliness should be the first thought when it comes to redesigning the office spaces.
Companies across will have to bring in two sets of changes to adapt to the new normal. First, a behavioural change will be required to ensure that strict protocols, such as clear desk policies are applied, and social distancing is maintained within the workplace. In addition, there will have to be environmental changes inside the office premises — increasing air flow, changing HVAC filters or enhancing cleaning regimes.
“Upon arrival, employees should use biometrics to register their entries rather than ID cards. Everything should be touchless and employees should forget about the flexibility that existed in workplaces earlier,” points out Kumar.
From seating arrangements to more open spaces, the way offices were earlier designed will be completely changed now
The former CHRO is strictly against sharing laptops and machines now, which was a common practice earlier.
If this is the expected workplace scenario, then large gatherings such as town hall meetings and group discussions will be out of question. Virtual meetings will be the preferred choice.
In the process of redesigning or restructuring workplaces, companies will prioritise an employee’s comfort to be able to work in the new environment. Kumar adds, “To provide employees the convenience to work, we will have to distance them, give them comfort, make them follow hygiene guidelines, and sanitise the office premises.”
“Once offices reopen, we will not be fighting COVID anymore. Instead, we will be fighting fear,” Kumar concludes.