A strategic return-to-office for the world’s workforce will require a change in mindset, approach, behavior, and space. Despite a flurry of ever-changing rules and regulations, employees are ready to get back into the workplace. Business leaders are seeking best practices.

Over the last year, workspaces have been retrofitted with safety in mind. But what comes next? We have some insights on that.

DESIGNING FOR PRODUCTIVITY

Open-plan offices of the past lacked support for employee’s focus. Moving forward, organizations will benefit from creating multimodal spaces that support collaboration and focus work equally.

Post-pandemic workspaces should offer areas for effective team collaboration, heads-down focus work zones, and easy access to tools and resources for employees to stay productive. Privacy pods, workbooths, and modular seating are great product solutions that offer employees a range of work modes.

DESIGNING FOR COMMUNITY

In our remote-working reality, employees are missing their coworkers and the sense of belonging that their workspaces used to provide them. Organizations will need to rethink the purpose of their office from simply a workplace to becoming the infrastructure for building social capital and fostering a sense of purpose and belonging.

As employees return, offices can foster this feeling by offering spaces designed to encourage employee engagement and interaction. Communal areas like cafes, game rooms, and bleacher-style seating meeting spaces provide employees with a gathering place to collaborate with their coworkers and access to a sense of belonging that they were missing while working remotely.

DESIGNING FOR FLEXIBILITY

The pandemic has taught us that companies need to embrace flexibility. The workplaces of the future will utilize multi-use spaces that will support diverse types of activities.

These spaces will use furnishings that easily move to allow settings to expand and contract, supporting distancing needs when necessary and accommodating different-size groups and activities seamlessly. Mixed location teams will collaborate in uninterrupted harmony with integrated technology solutions, like e-meeting rooms, with screens preset for video conferencing.

With a few tweaks like these, offices can morph and change to serve employees’ ever-changing needs and expectations in the post-pandemic work world.

Download our complete guide on “What’s Next In the Workplace” here.

Learn more from Steelcase’s Global Report: Employee expectations have changed. Is your workplace ready?

Empire’s Director of Strategic Partnerships Elizabeth Irizarry co-hosted a special podcast along with special guests Steven Burgos, Senior Associate | Design Director at Gensler Miami, and Randy Carballo, EVP at Blanca Commercial Real Estate, on the topic of The Future of Work, It’s Complicated.

The spirited conversation touched on many interesting topics related to where many of us find ourselves today – navigating the hybrid work environment and what’s to come for the future of offices. 

Top of mind for many companies in planning their return to work is a space that enables flexibility and agility. All speakers agreed that in order for companies to transition their workforce back into the office effectively, there needs to be an apparent reason for them to come back, and the space must provide for a specific purpose. The days of going into an office to “punch a timecard” are gone; now, employees are coming in to get something they can’t get at home. Whether it’s meeting with clients, collaborating with coworkers, or participating in a shared experience, the office can still serve a purpose. However, the true intent of the office coming out of this pandemic will be something to continue to watch. Companies must be prepared to make adjustments as needed to best support their employees’ needs. 

Other changes include transforming the commercial office to function more as our home offices do. Heads-down time and focused work product improved for many during the pandemic with the ability to work from home. For companies looking to retain that spike in focus and productivity, an open office where all employees sit in a large space all together may not be the answer. Adding focus rooms or nooks can balance out the time spent collaborating amongst coworkers with the quiet, focused time we have become accustomed to at home.

Lastly, the speakers see technology continuing to play a huge role as we transition back to the office. The rise of Zoom was not limited to just the WFH era. As more and more companies roll out their hybrid workforce plans, many predict you’ll see even more need for technology that can connect both virtual and in-person conferencing. In addition, spatial intelligence technology will be even more critical to monitor space usage within the office, enabling companies to make better decisions regarding the design of their space based on actual data. 

Overall, there is a greater focus on worker wellness, health and wellbeing after one of the most challenging periods many of us have faced in our lifetimes. Providing employees the freedom to work where they do it best, along with making company-specific decisions on bringing everyone back together, remains a considerable challenge and highlights a paradox in workplace planning that won’t be solved overnight.

As the speakers suggest, there is no “one size fits all” approach, and every company’s needs are very different. The question is not whether we need more or less office space but rather: why are my employees coming into the office? As Steven pointed out, this can be a massive opportunity for companies to impact change within their workforce and create a more productive and innovative environment. 

At Empire Office, we are excited to play a role in planning the future of work with our clients and industry partners such as Gensler and Blanca Real Estate. There is no doubt that we will indeed feel the trends and impacts of this pandemic era for years to come. 

To listen to the full podcast, use the following link and select your preferred platform: https://linktr.ee/Infiniteattraction.

Designing in an ongoing pandemic is challenging. This time has shown us that flexibility is paramount in any space. Get back into the office with these three workspace alterations.

1. Spatial Division Made Beautiful
Support distancing measures and make directional paths simpler to follow with physical barriers; use planters or open shelving to add some aesthetic value. Layer your branding into your space with custom signage that clearly marks directional paths or open work areas.

Explore Our Picks:

2. All-Around Protection
Install division screens or wrap-around workbooths to provide spatial workstation protection for your employees. Made from either acrylic or PET felt, division screens should be at least 24″H and wrap 3-ways around to provide optimal protection for your employees.

Explore Our Picks:

3. A Different View On Ancillary
Ancillary areas can still be an incredible asset for employee collaboration with some minor adjustments made. Make employees comfortable in breakout spaces furnished with pieces designed with distancing protocols in mind.

Explore Our Picks:

COVID-19 SERVICES
Get back to work safely with our COVID-19 services. Retrofit your current space using technology-backed tools and best-in-class product solutions.

Learn More Here.

What lies ahead in the upcoming months is uncertain at best. However, we are confident in the fact that we will all eventually be back to work in our offices–at some point. Once government mandates and restrictions start lifting, companies and employees may need to rethink the way they work in the office.

Over the past several years, workplace design has promoted a more collaborative setting with lower physical barriers to achieve a more dynamic work environment. In preparing for a workplace post-COVID-19, our clients are beginning to discuss how to retrofit these types of open-plan offices to protect employees during this fluid time, even if it’s just a short-term strategy. A complete overhaul may not be necessary, but adding a few additional protective pieces and rethinking the layout of the space along with establishing new protocols may help keep everyone safe and healthy while returning to work.

Here are some things we are already starting to see.

  1. Face-to-Face Protection.
    1. Protective partitions affixed to the front of the work surface and made from non-porous/wipe-able surfaces
  2. Side-to-Side Protection.
    1. Protective division pieces in between individuals that extend beyond the work surface
    2. Additional storage added between stations for further “physical distancing”
    3. Increasing desk sizes to support social distancing
    4. For already dense applications, sit every other desk to maintain a proper distance
  3. Infection Control.
    1. Antimicrobial surfaces/elements added for arm caps on chairs and deskpads on work surfaces
    2. Easily accessible sanitization stations, including hand sanitizers and wipes, gloves and masks
    3. Antimicrobial trash receptacle
  4. Easy to Clean Surfaces.
    1. Swap out the fabric on seat and pedestal cushions for vinyl and/or bleach-cleanable material

In the months ahead, there will certainly be even more expertise around these topics, and some lessons learned once they are put into practice. Below are some insightful thought leadership pieces created by some of our favorite industry partners.

What Happens When We Return to the Workplace

By Gensler

How Leaders are Responding to Covid Workplace Disruption

By Gallup

We are all watching closely as the situation with the COVID-19 global pandemic unfolds. Day-by-day changes are affecting our daily lives and, in turn, our businesses.

Our goal is to keep you informed, through effective communications and this webpage, on the continually changing landscape we find ourselves in. If you’re a current customer with an on-going project, please bookmark this page and stay connected with us for important updates in the days, weeks and months to come.

We wish you and your loved ones good health during these uncertain times, and we thank you for your attention and continued support.

 

***

Update 3/24/20

Please read below for a critical update regarding Steelcase operations.

The Empire executive management team has been in contact with senior members of Steelcase over the past two days working through details of this current situation and what this means for our clients.

Here’s what we know.

The Governor of Michigan put a “shelter in place” order on the state, and as such, Steelcase Grand Rapids operation is now closed to all non-essential business* as of today, March 24.

(*Read more on what is considered an essential business by the State of Michigan, which is different than New York State, but affects NY clients.)

Current orders:

New Orders:

Exempt “Essential” Clients:

 

TO BE CLEAR: THE ONLY ORDERS DEEMED ESSENTIAL ARE THOSE FOR HEALTHCARE-RELATED BUSINESSES.

 

FOR NON-STEELCASE ORDERS:

STORAGE:

SHORT-TERM ALTERNATIVES:

We remain fully committed to supporting our client-base as well as design partners during this unprecedented time we are facing. Most importantly, we want you to know we are here for you, and we are in this together.

 

***

Update 3/20/20

PLEASE READ BELOW FOR AN IMPORTANT UPDATE FOR OUR NEW YORK/TRI-STATE CUSTOMERS AND PARTNERS:

In light of today’s announcement by the Governor of New York enforcing 100% of all nonessential workers to stay home, Empire Office is taking the necessary steps to adhere to the guidelines put in place by our state officials.

Here are some critical updates:

Right now, communication is more important than ever. We are committed to providing regular updates here and invite you to bookmark this page to stay on top of critical information from our end.

We want to hear from you too, and encourage you to be in touch with your Empire sales rep to discuss updates to your upcoming projects and overall business operability status.

Our hope is that this restriction does not last long, and we can all get back to business as usual as soon as possible. We sincerely hope you and your loved ones stay safe and healthy in these uncertain times. We will be here to support you in any way we can.

Empire Office Leadership Team

***
Update 3/18/20

Dear Valued Customers and Partners,

We are continuing to monitor the effects of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, and as such, we wanted to inform you of our updated plans for business continuity.

We are happy to report that our deliveries are operating as normal, with regular shipments being received on a daily basis at all of our warehouse locations. Installations are also progressing as scheduled, and our crews in the field are taking extreme precautions to limit any exposure. Client meetings are still taking place, although many are now happening virtually.

Here’s what’s new:

Our commitment to the safety of our employees as well as our continued business operations remains our top priorities at this time. We will follow closely any new announcements from Federal and Local governments and will continue to keep you up to date as things progress.

We also invite you to communicate any changes from your end as well. Delays in schedules or operations due to corporate or building requirements as well as other pre-furniture installations and suppliers are important pieces of information for us to be able to plan ahead as well.

We have set up this special page on our website to ensure updated information is always readily accessible. Please bookmark this page and refer back to it often. We will continue to send emails with updates as needed.

Be safe and healthy, and please reach out with any questions or concerns regarding the information contained here. Thank you for your continued support.

Empire Office Leadership Team

 

***
Update 3/9/20

As promised, we are continuing to monitor the unique situation with COVID-19. As predicted, the virus continues to spread, and we continuously watch the impact it might have on our employees, our customers, and our industry.

We are currently operating as “business as usual,” but we are watching the situation as it continues to develop. We have put precautions in place to keep our employees healthy, including a thorough cleaning of our offices by professional cleaning crews on a nightly basis and antibacterial wipes and hand sanitizers distributed and available to all employees. We have restricted travel and are strictly enforcing a work from home policy for employees not feeling well.

Our primary supplier, Steelcase, also continues to operate as “business as usual,” and they see no disruption in their supply chain as their North American production is made in North America (US and Mexico). They have very little to no impact related to any Asian supply issues. This fact was verified with Steelcase again this morning.

A quote from the Steelcase announcement:
“Our global supply chain continues to meet customer commitments. Our operations teams across the globe remain focused on the single goal of no customer disruptions. Throughout our three regions, teams are monitoring daily inventory levels and are analyzing multiple tiers within our supply chains in search of any parts or materials that may be at-risk. We have evaluated our 30-day, 60-day and 90-day supply and have already taken actions to reduce risk.“

If circumstances require us to do so, we could leverage our position as Steelcase’s largest dealer to assist our clients.

We are also staying connected with all other top suppliers to ensure they are also operating as “business as usual.” We will advise if we hear of any significant disruptions to the operations of our top vendors.

As this is a developing event with local and global effects, we continue to closely monitor and make the required adjustments to our operating plan. We will continue to update you as the situation further develops. If you have any questions or concerns, we will be happy to address and assist.

We encourage you to stay up to date with the latest updates provided by the CDC here.

Thank you for your continued support and trust in Empire. We look forward to continuing to provide the same level of service our clients are accustomed to, even in these challenging times.

Sincerely,

The Empire Leadership Team

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