We moved office during the coronavirus pandemic. Here’s how we’re beginning to use our new space while keeping employees safe.
A lot went in to the design and build of our new office in Clerkenwell and we’ve shared the story of our office move from concept to completion, both pre- and mid-pandemic. From introducing our office move team and engaging our staff, to using our relocation as an opportunity for business transformation, finding design inspiration and planning our return to the office during COVID-19, it’s been quite the journey – and it isn’t over yet.
Now that our new workspace is open, we’re practising new ways of working in an environment that’s been modified to accommodate the health and safety measures associated with COVID-19.
The ultimate solution to our office reintegration has been equal parts form and function. Things like distanced layouts, bookable desks, new cleaning regimens and one-way traffic patterns have prepared our work environment for our return, but our own behaviour has changed in order to complement these design measures and make them effective.
We began by writing and administering an employee sentiment survey to better understand the way our teams felt about the pandemic and the prospect of returning to the office.
Head of People and Workplaces Lorna Killick explains why a temperature check on people’s thoughts, feelings and needs related to the workplace was an imperative starting point; “we realised pretty early on that there was little point making major plans or adjustments to our office environment if we could not first quantify people’s anxieties and the impact of things we could not control, like commutes on public transport.”
This initial collection of feedback revealed a lot about the way our people want to use our workplace. We learned which teams felt they needed the office in order to be the most productive in their roles, and which felt they could continue to be productive from home. By conducting the survey periodically, we were able to monitor changes in employee sentiment and decide when it was appropriate to begin phasing back into the office.
“It was vital for us to survey our team several times throughout the process, to give us the data required to make decisions and to dig into the psychology of people’s choices,” confirms Lorna. And choice is exactly what our new operating policies are built around. As Lorna explains, “there is no compulsion for anyone in our team to use the office but, if they want to, it’s ready and waiting – a comfortable and well-considered space with policies to match.”
Journey mapping was another key step in the process of re-opening our office. Part of the sentiment survey involved gathering data on how employees travelled to work normally, whether they’d be comfortable making their typical commute and if they had an alternative method they would feel safe using. “Travel was always the big sticking point for us in our reoccupation strategy,” says Lorna. “It doesn’t matter how much of a safe haven your office is if no one is prepared to take the perceived risk of getting there.”
Once we understood how and when our teams wanted to use the office, we examined the limitations of our new space. We used space plans to study the effect social distancing practices would have on the capacity and functionality of our workspace. By following government guidance, listening to insights from stakeholder feedback and using our knowledge of design solutions, we were able to come up with a plan that allows for the phased return of our people while adhering to changing government advice.
But our reintegration strategy isn’t just the product of distanced layouts and revised navigation patterns – the way we behave inside the space had to change in order to render the design solutions effective.
“In our environment, we have promoted behavioural change over physical change – and this has been assisted by technology,” explains Lorna. “We have simple apps and software to book ‘a desk for a day’, to monitor and check-in visitors, to run a virtual phone system which connects us to the office in any location and to hold video meetings or chats.” It’s a system that allows for the close monitoring of occupancy levels and distancing measures while keeping our teams connected, whether they’re at the new office or at home.
As we begin to use our new space, it’s becoming increasingly clear that there is one aspect of the workplace that will never change: its central role in upholding culture and community. Our time working remotely has proven that working from home provides a series of benefits that office-based working does not inherently have – but it’s also reinforced our need for certain aspects of shared workspace. The office is paramount to fostering company culture, uniting around a common purpose and connecting teams in an environment of community and collaboration, which is precisely why it won’t be going anywhere any time soon.