For many businesses, 2021 has proceeded with the same uncertainty that plagued much of 2020. With lockdowns still in effect and the vaccine rollout taking time, many employees are still working from home, leaving workplaces vacant or under-utilized.
While this is a difficult situation for businesses, it also presents an opportunity. By changing the dynamics and layout of your workplace while it is empty, you can give employees something better to come back to and increase productivity when they return.
Businesses have had to adapt quickly to survive the coronavirus pandemic. For those who are primarily office based, this has seen a broad switch to remote working, and all of its benefits and pitfalls. Yet while remote working is likely to become more commonplace after the pandemic, most people will soon be returning to their workplaces, and readjusting to the rhythms of office life.
For some, this may be easier said than done. Remote working does not work for everyone, but for many employees it has revealed the day-to-day inefficiencies that can dog companies. Cutting out commutes, working in peace and without distractions, and having your own space to eat lunch or take a coffee break are perks that will be hard to relinquish - and could even have a negative effect when they are taken away.
We often think of people as the be all and end all of a business, and that the primary focus of managers should be to keep them motivated. Yet motivation and productivity go far beyond what we say and how we treat people. The environment we work in and the resources available to us are equally important - and there may be no better time to make sweeping changes than now.
Most of the inefficiencies in office design are small issues by themselves, but cumulatively they can have a drastic impact. Take the use of storage systems in offices, such as filing cabinets and shelving. Cabinets can be bulky, jutting out into rooms, and can easily fall into disorder, eating up time as you try to find what you need. Conversely, a lack of storage can mean that the clutter spills onto desks, having a demotivating effect on employees and a negative impact to visitors.
If you are struggling for storage space, one solution may be rotary shelving, such as that offered by Invicta. Unlike a traditional cabinet where the door opens outwards, a rotary shelving unit rotates in place. When not in use, the back of the shelves forms a door which can be locked, the same as a regular cabinet. This allows the unit to be smaller, saving you floor space and allowing for storage in corridors or other narrow areas.
If you are struggling for space in a stockroom or dedicated storage area, mobile shelving may be the answer. Instead of traditional shelving with an aisle between each set of shelves, mobile shelves are placed on a floor-mounted rail, and compacted together. When you want to access an aisle, you simply roll them apart -- saving as much as half of your storage space in the process.
A more general and holistic approach would be to consider your office layout, and how the dynamics of the space might be affecting employee performance. This is particularly important if you are currently using an 'open office' design, where many people are sat at parallel desks, with no partitioning between them.
Having been the rage in the 2000s and early 2010s, new evidence suggests that this is far from an ideal working environment. Designed chiefly to improve communication and collaboration, open offices often have the opposite effect. Being hemmed in by your colleagues is not only more distracting (due to the creation of more noise), but actually reduces face-to-face conversations, as people tend to fall back on messaging apps like Slack to avoid the din.
While an open office format is efficient, the trade-off in productivity is generally thought not to be worth it. Instead, consider a layout in which dividers create some form of soundproofing and visual barrier, or even look to segment your space into individual offices. As well as reducing noise, employers will feel less like they are being watched by everyone around them, making them more comfortable. You should also afford them the chance to decorate their 'cubicle', helping the workplace feel less sterile, and them feel more at home.
What’s more, one thing that COVID-19 has brought to the fore is that open offices don’t offer any protection against the spread of germs.
Beyond rearranging desks or creating partitions, there are other physical dynamics of an office space that you should consider. One underappreciated aspect of office planning may be the temperature of the space. It is now widely accepted that men and women have different susceptibilities to temperature, with men tending to be more comfortable at lower temperatures.
With male employees often being responsible for setting temperatures, this may be something to consider. Space heaters may help, but it might also be possible to use local settings on air conditioning systems to make people feel more comfortable, or even to situate some people nearer to windows or radiators. This should always be conducted with feedback from employees, without making them feel like they are inconveniencing you.
Another aspect of office productivity is lighting. Overhead lights in offices have a habit of being extremely bright and producing glare off of computer screens and light colored decor. Conversely, dim lighting or overreliance on ambient lighting can create an overly relaxed atmosphere -- with both affecting productivity. Getting your lighting right by adjusting levels, the positions of lights and even the warmth of lighting can make a surprising difference.
These are just a few ideas on how you can improve workplaces which are empty due to lockdown. The current period has been challenging, but it also presents a great opportunity to renovate--making the workplace a more organized, safer and healthier place to be.