Raquel Sachser of M Moser addresses how we need to reconsider workplace amenities in the post-COVID-19 office.
It’s no secret that amenities have become a vital aspect of workplace strategy. Having amenities in place that go beyond an elevator or a dining area are often the difference between retaining top talent and seeing them leave to seek greener pastures. Workplace amenities can enhance a work environment by engaging all employees, elevating a brand’s identity, creating emotional connections to the office space, and promoting wellness and agility in the way we work.
If you had asked several months ago, most would have agreed that the only real trend in the amenities space that would be moving forward would be a continued push toward big ideas that promote flexibility, creativity, and open collaborative spaces. Some of that will still be possible, but as COVID-19 continues to upend the world of work, new and more pressing demands will push workplace strategists and business leaders to adjust course and reconsider certain priorities.
Investing in physical safety
Have you ever interviewed a potential employee and had them ask, “How often do you clean the office space?” Unless you’ve interviewed someone in the last few weeks, the answer to that question is most likely no. Most prospective talent probably assumed that you employed some sort of janitorial service that appeared on an-often enough basis to keep the office clean. Moving forward, though, providing workplace amenities post-COVID-19 related to physical health and infection control will surge in importance among employees.
In the short term, employees will rightfully expect an enhanced cleaning program for public areas like receptions, pantries, café/dining areas, coffee points, copy rooms, and wellness rooms in addition to an after-hours cleaning program that focuses on disinfection of all surfaces. Business leaders should also consider implementing improvements to HVAC systems and adding UVC lamp systems, and coating highly used surfaces in common areas with antimicrobial treatments that better prevent germs and bacteria from circulating throughout touch, air, and water.
Historically, construction materials and fabrics may not have been considered an amenity, but in this new world, they will take center stage. Offices built with construction materials that are inherently antimicrobial, such as copper, brass, and some laminates, as well as fabrics with antimicrobial properties embedded within the fibers or treated fabrics that may be bleach cleanable, will become more commonplace.
Other potential workplace amenities post-COVID-19 that will take on a more prominent role will include technology that reduces physical touch in common areas – think hands-free enabled equipment for faucets, soap dispensers, paper towels, trash receptacles, refrigerators/microwave doors, closets and points of egress. It may seem simple, but providing employees with hygienic products like hand sanitizers, antibacterial soaps, gloves, masks and disinfectant wipes will become table stakes.
Creating the spaces we want with new rules
Despite all of this change, we will always need workspaces that foster collaboration, innovation, creativity and a sense of belonging. There will always be a desire for amenities like artfully designed meeting spaces, eating areas or a company whisky bar, physical activity centers like gyms or a communal rock-climbing wall. That said, the way we create these spaces is going to have to be altered in ways that accommodate sufficient spacing between people.
Tables and seating should be set up at the appropriate distances, and fixed furniture may become more important since maintaining proper distances will need to be more strictly enforced. We can still have that beloved coffee nook, but snacks should be individually packaged, and hardware should be made of copper or brass products as these are inherently antimicrobial. Employees will also have to adjust by adhering to a cleaning routine before and after the use of these community spaces, so providing cleaning solutions and hand sanitizers convenient to all settings will be key.
The potential need for lower population density in a physical office space will also put a greater emphasis on digital amenities to ensure employees can transition seamlessly from office-based to remote working regularly. Companies will need to outfit employees with laptops, provide plentiful wifi hotspots and video conferencing capabilities so people can continue to come together to share ideas, tell stories, and create emotional connections with one another.
Amenities for mental health & wellness
If there is any silver lining to this global crisis, perhaps it is that, as a society, we are more open to discussing our anxiety, stress, and feelings of uncertainty with our employers and have demonstrated that in fact working from home is possible and can be effective.
As a result, expect to see a huge uptick in a demand for workplace amenities post-COVID-19 that related to supporting mental health and “flex working”. An example of this could be a robust “flexible working” program, allowing staff to work from home, permanently, or as needed, as well as companies providing access to mental health counselors and insurance coverage of online counseling services. It’s plausible that HR functions will begin creating individualized stress management programs or an established buddy-program with established rules for checking up on each other.
While we all wish we could return to some level of normalcy in the near future, the reality is more likely to be that our definition of normal, and the amenities we require, will be forever changed. So, while we’re living in an ambiguous time with an uncertain future, we can still try to be as prepared as possible. Setting up strategies now will help us all feel more safe and comfortable when we once again venture out into the world and return to work.