Work Design Magazine: Managing Furniture For Adapting Workplaces


Kimmerle Group
WorkDesignMagazine | August 27, 2020
By Meghan Barlotta, Sarah Heffner, William Kimmerle

Here are five tips to help navigate furniture selections as you plan your return to work.  

Working on your company’s return-to-office plan and trying to digest your staff’s furniture needs is no easy feat. Before welcoming back staff, companies must make decisions on how to socially distance, sanitize, and comply to workplace guidelines. They must also balance staff comfort with safety, costs, and manufacturing timelines for new furniture pieces or add-ons. Furniture manufacturers, like many other businesses, were impacted by COVID-19 shutdowns. This may affect how efficiently you are able to implement your company’s return-to-work plan.

There is a lot to consider as employees begin to return to offices that will be different from the ones they occupied before COVID-19. These few tips can serve as a guide to help as you start to navigate this process.

1. Select a furniture provider who will act as your advocate

The right furniture provider will offer more than just sales. They should help navigate the maze of products and information being pushed out daily, especially as these evolve to meet post-COVID-19 restrictions and regulations. Specifically, furniture providers should be solution-oriented and cater to the individual needs of your company, while helping you consider options and costs.

If the provider is new to you, site visits should be conducted in-person or virtually. You should expect tiered ranges of costs and products. For instance, when adding height to existing furniture panels, you will want to understand options. These may include permanently installed glass or fabric stackers versus temporary, locally produced screens. Making sure that your furniture provider understands what your individual company’s needs and restrictions are will allow for a better end-result.

Your furniture provider should offer strong visual packages to help you process the larger impact of the design on any office retrofit.

2. Support working from home

Juggling a wide range of opinions and concerns related to revised workplace structures and newly implemented safety measures are unavoidable. Creating options for staff and adapting as plans evolve is an ever-changing process.

We can expect that time spent in the office will continue to be balanced with time spent at home. Managing office capacities will mean staff is staggered with respect to both space and time, as recommended by the CDC.

Extended time working from home has highlighted the need for ergonomic and functional solutions at our home offices. Providing incentives for employees to address these issues can yield higher productivity and increase morale. Contract furniture manufacturers, like Haworth, have created “stores” where end-users are able to purchase products like task seating and height adjustable desks directly at discounted rates.

3. Continue to consider design

Our environment and its visual appeal greatly impact productivity. We are challenged to react to the new safety guidelines, but it does not need to be at the expense of design. Design can be the bridge between creating a safe and stimulating environment.

Several manufacturers are offering creative and design-forward solutions to newly required signage. It can be customized with company logos and branding or it can be inserted into flooring materials such as carpet and vinyl tiles.

According to the CDC, companies should modify seats, furniture, or workstations to maintain social distancing of six feet between employees. It also recommends installing transparent shields or other physical barriers where possible to separate employees and visitors where social distancing is not possible.

These workstation and conference table divider screens can also be customized to integrate custom colors and artwork or even be used as whiteboards. A recent survey by McKinsey and Company indicates that the majority of offices plan to change their workstations, food-service areas and other physical infrastructure to aid in the separation of employees. Nearly 50 percent of respondents’ report separating workstations already, and an additional 34 percent say they plan to.

Lastly, biophilic designs – bringing natural elements indoors in ways that mimic outdoor environments – can further balance some of the more sterile safety-oriented installations to keep a sense of connection with the outside. Studies show that biophilic design reduces anxiety and improves mental health. It can also continue to foster innovative thinking amidst some of the more conventional remediations.

4. Consider adding additional storage

We have all experienced adjustments to our lives as a result of this pandemic – lack of control, a diminished sense of security, and the altering of our normal workplace routines.

Companies might consider providing additional storage for individuals to offset some of the changes. Storage can house personal protective equipment and company-issued “survival kits” which might include utensils and drinkware. It also allows each occupant to remove and store items from their desktop to ensure their workstations are thoroughly cleaned each evening.

Providing this added workstation component can offer a bit of security and sense of control. It shows that the company is recognizing the needs of its employees, and it also allows for a personal touch in an increasingly impersonal world.

5. Understand manufacturing and potential impact to occupancy timeline

Manufacturing lead-times varied before COVID-19 and have gotten even less predictable since. Expecting potential delays is helpful in planning a realistic timeline. There are ways to navigate the uncertainty and plan for worst-case scenarios.

Most manufacturing plants are now running at full capacity. As we watch COVID-19 counts rise in various regions, understanding where plants are located could be valuable. Strategically selecting products that are not produced in hot spots will likely avoid unnecessary delays.

Should we experience a second wave and be forced to navigate decreased staffing in manufacturing plants, understanding if your business qualifies as essential based on the CDC guidelines could allow for priority manufacturing. In these cases, your furniture provider can submit a request for this consideration.

Considering these five factors as you plan a return to the workplace can help reduce uncertainty and stress during an unprecedented time. While plans and needs may differ depending on your company’s location, number of staff, and line of work, considering these recommendations can help you make temporary or more permanent decisions that will positively impact the comfort level and safety of your employees.

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