South: Transitioning back to work after COVID-19

Axis House, a Hampshire-based office design, refurbishment and fit-out company, is working with businesses to help them transition back to work during the coronavirus pandemic.

The company designs and builds ‘inspirational and business-effective spaces that people love to use’. It offers complete CAT A and Cat B services for landlords and end users.

Dale Stone, workplace consultant, explained: “We help employers and landlords right across the South of England and throughout London and the Home Counties. In fact, Axis House has been leading the way in workplace design and build since 1986. For over three decades we have investigated the links between people, space, technology and culture to design and build workspaces with people and purpose in mind.”

He added: “Our analytical, research-based approach to workplace design and build has given us an unrivalled body of insight into the modern workplace. By working closely with our clients, we create inspiring, sustainable, and high-performing workspaces that support the people who use them.

“As workplace specialists we work with clients throughout the whole journey, ensuring that the various stages of work meet expectations and that opportunities to communicate with the wider organisation are maximised.

“We work collaboratively with clients to understand their long-term strategy and plans, to ensure we deliver not just what they want but what they need to move their business forward.”

How have you been able to use the time in lockdown to your benefit?

“With a fully agile workplace we were able to quickly adapt to remote working and continue progressing projects for our clients. Working within government guidelines we’ve also adapted our own combined office and warehouse space to respect ongoing social distancing measures and hygiene concerns, ready for the easing of lockdown in the coming days and weeks.

“We’ve been able to flex and adapt our supply chain to source new products and broadened our consulting services to repackage our offering to help other businesses prepare for the phased return to the workplace.”

Managing director James Farrant said: “We have broadened our consulting service to help Clients who want to look at current furniture layout and get advice and help on implementing flexible working arrangements and also advice on technology to support a changing work environment.”

“Screens and sanitisation points in the main office are proving very popular and the three-sided screen to go round seats in welfare areas and canteens have also been well received.

“There is no silver bullet to this. I think the challenge for many is they need to get people back fairly soon in order to keep their businesses going. Making sure staff are safe and supported through the process is paramount.”

As we slowly come out of lockdown, how do you see the workspace changing in the post-COVID world 

“As difficult as it is to predict what will happen next, we still need to prepare. There is an immediate need to adapt and retrofit workspaces to respect social-distancing and enable safe working.

“Even once we have moved past this initial phase there is likely to be an ongoing heightened sensitivity to hygiene issues, encompassing such things as air quality, cleaning regimes and shared facilities.

“Moving forward, there will be a pressing need to reconfigure spaces as more staff return and business starts coming back to life.

“For example, businesses had to rapidly adopt technology to continue operating during the lockdown period. Technologies may have been taken on without the time to evaluate the long-term suitability. Businesses may find that what was necessary in the short term can be improved upon greatly for the future and will be looking to review – from connectivity and conferencing software to virtual collaboration suites and meeting technology.

“Having embraced homeworking, many employees and companies may want to look at adopting a more permanent agile setup.

“Longer term I think workspaces will become inherently more flexible, more hands-free, more technology based – ultimately more agile and flexible.

“We’ll see more individual work settings and stand up meeting spaces. Also, a departure away from the natural wood and textiles that have become so prevalent, to more hygienic, easy-clean surfaces such as metal, stone and composites.

“The biggest challenge in designing workspaces in a post-COVID world will be maintaining a sense of community and collaboration at a time when separation has become necessary and to a certain extent, desirable.

“For increased home working on a longer term basis employers will also need to consider doing proper assessments such as DSE assessments to ensure all staff are properly cared for – it is easy to forget this when they are not actually physically working in your premises.

What will businesses need to change to make their employees feel safe in the office?

“There will certainly need to be a greater focus on and visibility of hygiene – particularly more stringent cleaning regimes and more hand-sanitising facilities

“There will be an immediate need to de-densify the office perhaps through a combination of shift work, staggered break times, continued flexible/home working, respacing of desks and reducing room capacities. Desking could be spaced, alternated, re-orientated and/or screened to avoid face-to-face working.

“Shared spaces such as kitchens will also be less desirable and certainly strict cleaning guidelines will be required for such spaces.

“Staff will also want to see guidance in black and white – not just in the form of clear signage but in company-wide communications. They will want to ensure that others will respect their space and that the company is supporting them in this. They will want to know that government advice is being followed and that their safety is the primary concern.

“We are working with some clients to introduce one-way flow paths through their spaces to reduce social contact using barriers, signage, message carpet tiles and floor stickers. Also repurposing meeting rooms into additional welfare areas to ensure staff have adequate space for breaks.”

How will Axis House help plan the workspace?

“We can conduct space audits and utilise space planning technologies to advise on the best use of your space in the immediate and short-to-medium term.

“This might involve re-orientating and de-densifying space, repurposing meeting rooms into wellness spaces or screening and partitioning to create more separation.

“We can also help plan one-way traffic flows to promote social distancing and placement of handwashing and sanitising facilities.”

For more information on office design and refurbishment visit www.axis-house.com send an email to hello@axis-house.com or call 01425 481980.

Axis House Back to Work Essentials brochure:  https://bit.ly/back_to_work_essentials