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The new workplace normal: Setting up safe, healthy office and remote work spaces

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By Kleopatra Kivrakidou, Channel Marketing Manager EMEA at Ergotron

Many businesses have been cautious in their return-to-work approach. A survey undertaken earlier in July by The British Chambers of Commerce found that up to 62% of employers expect part or all of their staff to continue working remotely for at least the next 12 months.

Social media giant Twitter has been an early adopter of the shift towards this new normal, confirming earlier in May that employees would be allowed to work from home indefinitely. Technology firm Fujitsu has followed suit, recently announcing a permanent work-from-home plan that will offer exceptional flexibility to its 80,000 workers in Japan. In the UK, the NatWest Group has indicated it is allowing 50,000 staff to work from home until 2021, while Rolls Royce, Scottish and Southern Energy, BP and insurance firm Aviva have no plans to get staff back into the offices.

Key reasons include the sheer logistics and costs involved to orchestrate the successful return of the workforce to safe and healthy workspaces. Additionally, remote working productivity in most organisations has been fairly robust – a survey by Willis Towers Watson found that 85% of employees felt they had the technology, tools and resources they needed to work productively from home for an extended period of time. Taking all these factors into account, and possibly driven mostly by the need to limit the number of people in office spaces and preserve social distancing guidelines, it seems that many companies are likely to opt for a combination of part-remote, part-office working in the future.

So, what are the main considerations for businesses planning to implement this new, blended way of working, while looking after the best interests of the business and the health and wellbeing of employees?

A spaced-out, flexible office environment

For facilities- and office managers, considering how the furniture and equipment in their respective work spaces can be configured to support safe but practical working protocols is a good starting point.

Taking into account the current need, many kinetic and mobile office furnishings allow firms to repeatedly flex and reconfigure their office spaces, which enables them to make the most of their existing spaces and accommodate the appropriate number of staff safely. Equipment such as adjustable monitor arms and sit-stand desk converters will allow different users to work in an ergonomic and productive way no matter which room or desk they use each time. The agility of a monitor arm and a sit-stand desk converter will allow quick adjustment to the users’ needs and in practice allow organisations to safely allow employees to come back to the office without sacrificing productivity.

Furthermore, mobile workstations on which staff can place their laptop or notebook can be moved into a suitable position from which to conduct socially distanced meetings in open-plan locations.

Investing in wall-mounted workstations can also be a way to create additional workspaces. Non-electric and height-adjustable these can be easily altered by each user in order to support their way of working, and folded away when not in use, allowing maximum use of every inch of space in the office.

A further benefit of these types of furnishings is that they offer employees the flexibility they need to maximise their immediate working environment for their unique physiques or work tasks. Workers can ensure that desks, seating, and workstations are always comfortable and ergonomically matched to their height or productivity needs.

Supporting remote working

Employees working remotely must be afforded the same duty of care as office-based workers, which means helping them to utilise their work technology in a safe and appropriate way. Since couches, dining room tables, kitchen benches and beds were never designed for comfortable or productive working, many organisations are now requesting that at-home employees take photos of their working area so a health and safety assessment can be undertaken.

To ensure employees can then take advantage of appropriate desks, seating, laptop equipment and monitors that optimise wellbeing, companies are offering to provide resources such as sit-stand desks and other fixtures to set up a suitable home-office environment.

In addition to making sure remote teams have the support and equipment they need, it’s also important from a management perspective to agree on ways of working. It needs to be clear for each employee as to how teams will work together remotely, including keeping everyone updated, and how often. Processes like regular virtual huddles and team meetings are essential for staying connected as a team, keeping tabs on wellbeing, and keeping workflows on track.

Your business is only as strong as your people

It’s tempting for organisations to move full-tilt ahead with return-to-work plans, whatever form these take, to boost production and get back on the business track. It’s important however to acknowledge that everyone is operating in a new normal, from the entry-level employees all the way up to the CEO. Regular surveys to collect employee feedback on their workstation set-up, schedule and anything else related to your company’s pandemic response and revised working protocols will help businesses stay tuned to what’s working, and support flexibility in changing what’s not.

Ultimately, each business and employee base is unique. Choose which strategies work for your workplace culture to help keep your employees comfortable, productive and healthy wherever they work in your company’s new workplace normal.