Workplace design strategy for an employee-centric environment in the COVID-19 landscape


As the ease of lockdown restrictions grant the gradual reopening of the economy, companies look towards redesigning their workplace to mitigate the further spread of the virus and prioritize the health and safety of their employees all the while following government-mandated regulations.

Trends And Concepts (TAC) Principal Designer and VP of Design & Construction Management IDr. Charisse Gail Bantiling tackled how companies can strategically design their office for the return of the workforce in the current and post COVID-19 landscape. “In this discussion, given that we spend 90% of our day in the workplace, we want to understand what a healthier environment means and what human-centric designs do to benefit your business,” said Gail.

Gail shared her presentation and insights in Australian-New Zealand Chamber of Commerce Phils., Inc. (ANZCHAM) virtual event entitled “Designing for a Healthier Environment and What it means for your Business” and in European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (ECCP) webinar entitled “The Office Comeback: Legal Considerations and Design Insights on Re-opening Workplaces” where she is joined by Atty. Eliseo Zuniga Jr. and Atty. Patrick Henry Salazar of Quisumbing Torres.

 

Her presentation and study was also assimilated in The CoreNet Global Hackathon entitled “A COVID-19 Virtual Ideation Experience”. Gail shared how she and her team conceptualized design strategies for the future of the workplace and solutions to elevate employee-wellbeing.

Gail is part of Team 16 addressing the area of Workplace Wellbeing. Team 16 is led by Sujatha Ganapathy, Vice President of Knight Frank India. Members of Team 16, including Gail, are Ashwini Kuvalekar, Architect- Sustainable Solutions, Space Matrix Design Consultants Pvt Ltd, India; Norberto.Figueroa, Associate Director, Cognizant Technology Solutions, Philippines, Inc.; and Sandhya Hegde, Lead- Sustainable Solutions, Space Matrix Design Consultants Pvt Ltd, India.

The report by Team 16 first identified the risks found within enclosed settings, such as the workplace, that individuals are more likely to be exposed to and may impact their overall wellbeing.  The risks are mainly environmental, occupational, and behavioral.

“We’re still acknowledging the fact that the physical workplace is something necessary to keep and I don’t think it’s going anywhere. It is a place after all where we do our business agenda or social gatherings in general,” Gail expressed before delving into her topic and sharing the workplace strategies can implement.

The initial steps in reconfiguring the workplace are by creating a one-way entrance and exit system to enforce the physical distancing rule. Afterward, identify which areas have high and low traffic zones in order to optimize areas that need adjustment for capacity as well as finding which ones can be converted to an additional workspace or temporary rooms. Lastly, provide clear directive routes through the use of physical markers, it should be straightforward yet visually enticing for the user to examine and follow.

For the reception area, ensure an enhanced entry and exit sequence, provide testing zones for temperature checks, take out unnecessary seats in consideration to physical distancing, and place sanitizing areas on visible spots.

De-densify the workplace to accommodate physical distancing can be achieved by using the high and low traffic zones guideline which indicates the tables that are to be occupied and determines the capacity per wing. Ideally, you want to take out equipment and seats on the unoccupied spaces, otherwise, you can make use of markers as dividers and sneeze guards between workstations for protection.

Similarly, workplace mapping can help ensure dedicated seats, personal accountability, and clear workable rules of conduct per user through alternate seating arrangements with a minimum of 1.5-meter physical distancing.

With the physical changes implemented within the workplace, facility management protocols are just as important as it goes hand in hand to promote safety and wellness in the office environment. “With intentional designs, operations, and policies, we can help occupants from becoming sick. Promoting practices that can keep occupants healthier,” said Gail.

Workplace design on wellness integration and infrastructure measures to prevent any type of disease or ill-conditions due to Occupational and Environmental factors are listed:

  • Limit exposure to Air Pollution & Infection Risks, External Factors
  • Access to Resources, such as water dispensers with safe drinking water as per the World Health Organisation.
  • Provide Comforting Needs – Space Placement, Interior Design, Engineering and Operational Facilities
  • Provision of contactless trash cans
  • Access Control System – Face-Scanning Biometric Solution/Application based systems for attendance log-in to avoid touching the surfaces
  • QR Code Scanner for Lift usage

 

Finally, Gail emphasized on employee-wellbeing, “As stakeholders, we have to consider the users – not only are we looking at the workplace in the lens of hygiene and sanitation, maybe we should try welcoming the idea of creating a space of quality, bringing emphasis to empathy and support, bringing in a lot of that data-driven design approach using intelligent and technology-based solutions, creating that symbiotic relationship between business continuity and employee-wellbeing.”

The hackathon’s result and final report for the area of Workplace Wellbeing states that the most important aspect for a re-entry strategy is the physical and mental wellbeing of an individual employee. Workplace wellness, initially a concept, may emerge as an industry with new products, practices, techniques, and strategies for companies to adopt and adjust for their respective spaces, building, and community.

There are several considerations to take into account and practices to implement for the safety of all. Testing and probing will be needed to confirm the efficacy and practicality of these workplace strategies. So long as there are opportunities for change and adaptation, companies can move forward during this period in protecting and preparing the office for the workforce.

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