Agility has been the key to getting through the Covid-19 crisis. When the country shut down back in March last year, organisations had to adapt quickly to the new normal.
Buildings either closed or had to undergo modifications. Although many of these alterations were small, they made a huge difference. Public transport operators like Great Western Railway installed screens and hundreds of wall-mounted hand sanitiser units to keep commuters safe. Offices put up signage to help staff keep physically and socially distanced from one another.
Whether it’s internal and external refurbishments, fabric services or mechanical electrical engineering installations, small works have come to epitomise the challenge that business face in this current period. There is still a great deal of uncertainty about where businesses go from here. There may now be a roadmap for the UK to return to normal by June, but guidance on when workplaces can reopen and what measures must be in place when they do remains thin on the ground.
Nevertheless, proactive organisations are already thinking about reoccupation and how they can begin to prioritise people’s wellbeing and productivity. In most cases, adapting won’t require large capex projects or wholesale space reconfigurations. Instead, the emphasis will be on practical refurbishments, modifications and other physical changes.
It is unlikely that the government will relax social distancing and hygiene rules for some time, so organisations will still need to ensure that environments are covid-safe. The aim should be to make considered space and design adjustments geared towards maintaining physical distancing, restricting footfall in risk zones and determining appropriate occupancy levels across floors. As a result, small works may need to be considered for areas such as meeting rooms and collaboration spaces in offices, receptions and lounge areas, bathrooms and elevator lobbies.
There may be a legal requirement but organisations also need to think about people’s confidence, fears and overall readiness to return, whether that’s employees, customers or the general public. Putting these measures in place will provide people with peace of mind and ensure that their return is as stress-free as possible.
And it’s not just about creating safe or compliant spaces. Many organisations also plan to introduce permanent flexible working policies after the pandemic. In some cases, doing this will require changes to floorplans, from the addition of new furniture and technology to the de-densification of the space. When facilities and design teams are overseeing these types of refurbishment projects, it’s easy to overlook the fine details, like the position of fresh air outlets, sockets or lighting fixtures. Items linked to statutory compliance like fire extinguishers must be left in the right place too.
Finally, some specific buildings that are customer-facing and have been completely closed for an extended period of time, like retail shops, will need to be refreshed. In these cases, small works could mean anything from installing new signage or waste bins to applying a new coat of paint.
Whatever happens in the coming months, organisations must be ready to adapt once again. This means thinking about the small details as well as the bigger picture.