How Social Distancing has finally made personal space a priority for workplace design.
Over the past 10+ years we have seen ABW and similar work environments essentially try to fit more [people, work stations, break out areas, meeting rooms] in less space. As with all change we make compromises. In this case, we compromised our personal space.
We worked in much closer proximity to our colleagues, there were no drab cubicle dividers, no permanent workstations. We moved freely and fairly rapidly between floors, zones, shared and private areas, after all that’s the intention behind ABW.
Were we boxed in long before COVID 19 ?
To accommodate this mobile, almost nomadic work culture, lockers became a saving grace. Lockers meant clean clutter free desks, neat personal storage, and even integrated access control. Lockers meant a lot of things …. But most of all, it meant we literally reduced our personal space down to a – basic – small – box.
It wasn’t a fancy box, and there were so many boxes bunched together. Chances are you got a box that wasn’t comfortable to reach, might have been a bit too small for everything you have and was fitted with some silly lock that just doesn’t work properly, so we often found ourselves locked out of our own personal box. I mean if it wasn’t insulting enough!
You might have noticed, I am speaking of all this in the past tense.
C19, WFH and a new GFC quite simply means that everything we have become so accustomed to - is history.
There is so much talk about the new normal, but I don’t believe the new normal has arrived yet.
We also hear a very strong message that we will get through all this together. That we will come out the other side stronger, wiser and embracing innovations that have been screaming for us to adopt them for years.
So what will all of this mean for the workplace that many of us are actually keen to return to ?
When size really does matter.
Will we need larger floor plates to maintain some degree of social distancing ? investing in biosecurity within the workplace ?
Or will we actually be able to go the other way, and need less space due to a much higher uptake of Working From Home?
We can spread out work stations, reduce the shared spaces, we can keep people within their zones, we can rotate teams between office and home, increase the frequency of cleaning and sanitising, we might even be able to spread out those boxy lockers.
The question remains, in a post COVID 19 workplace, exactly how much personal space should we expect ?
Should social distancing and personal space be the number one priority of new workplace design ?
If scientists achieve the highly anticipated COVID-19 vaccine within the predicted 18-24 months (which will undoubtedly become a mandatory vaccine) will we need to maintain all this social distancing in the workplace ? or will we embrace it ? seeing how it has already contributed to substantial reductions in transmission of many common contagions.
But…. is this the only reason we want personal space ? to stay away from others ? when the beauty of being in a workplace is enjoying contact and collaboration with other human beings. Will we continue to fear being near our colleagues, brought on by our current state of forced agoraphobia ? or will we thrive again on the energy we can bounce off each other ? (without glitchy wifi getting in the way) There are many positive physiological and psychological benefits of being face to face with other people.
Workplace design has recently been embracing the intent to make people feel at home. We want to encourage the best talent to join and to stay. We want to enhance the cohesiveness of a team.
We want people from different teams to mix meet and mingle, fostering organic collaborative innovation. We want people to feel as though they belong.
Breaking Out of The Box
This elevates the priority of personal space within the workplace far beyond infection control. It’s about nurturing a deep and complex physical and psychological connection between human, inanimate environment and the metaphysical “company”. They need a touch stone, a sense of ownership, their own slice of home, a territory all of their own.
This isn’t really new, but I suppose I’m sort of oddly grateful that C19 has forced us to prioritise personal space again. The mental health impact of our personal space being reduced to a box has numerous and complex implications. The clients and people we work with have many passionate interests in the different design factors of their lockers. Sometimes we will have as many as 25 stakeholders contributing to the process.
These concerns are often brushed aside by with flippant comments like “it’s just a locker” or “it’s a box with a door and a lock”. (not by us I might add)
If that’s the value placed on a locker, the final frontier of personal space, is that not also the value place on the people ?
I hope not.
It is very possible to provide creative, innovative, intelligent and comfortable personal space for everyone, with lockers that can genuinely elevate human experience in the workplace and deliver benefits for a business.
I envision a future where buildings and workplaces utilise contactless biometric and voice recognition access control, along with automatic temperature scanning of people. Where these technologies are integrated across building elements such as, elevators, entry doors, workstations, lockers and amenities.
I look forward to a time when lockers are just bigger, sending a message that is less claustrophobic and more liberating. Lockers that provide more space than you might need, but never less than. I see a time where no one is tormented by being allocated the lowest locker because it isn’t low anymore, and you can’t be locked out because your locker actually knows you.
Some of this is already possible, we are already working on it.
Mostly, I am excited about getting back into the workplace, sharing space with the colleagues I value, and reinventing the ways in which we work closely without compromising our personal space.
Solutions Specialist – Activelocker
For more information on the solutions & designs available with Activelocker, contact:
M: +61438 741 881
A Welcome to Country is a long-established cultural protocol used between Traditional Owner groups when passing through or visiting each other’s traditional lands. A formal ‘Welcome’, often by way of a Smoking Ceremony, was to ensure the safety and protection of visitors, as well as acting as ‘permission’ being granted by the hosting group.
The foundations of this practice explain why this custom is still of utmost importance today. I like to use the analogy of visiting a friend or neighbour’s house – just because I have knocked on the door once and been welcomed into their home, does not now mean I can freely enter their dwelling without notice at any time I deem appropriate!
The Welcome to Country (delivered by the local Traditional Owners) and the Acknowledgment of Country (delivered by anyone) promotes the ongoing connection to place of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and shows respect for the thousands of years that Indigenous groups have taken care of, and continue to take care of, the land and seas we all enjoy today.
There is no standard way a Welcome to Country will be expressed, and it is entirely at the discretion of the Traditional Owner group. It is important if you are engaging a group to be included in any workplace, that you allow the group or representative to guide you in what is appropriate, and ensure that your facilities cater for the range of family members that are involved in ceremony from Elders to little ones!
As an Aboriginal person, I never get tired of either seeing Welcome to Country ceremonies in all their different forms as is unique to each Traditional Owner groups, or of hearing a non-Indigenous person take the time to deliver an Acknowledgment of Country as part of meeting or event proceedings.
Indigenous Programs & Participation Lead
The challenges facing Facilities Managers in 2020 has significantly changed over the past number of years - climate change, political uncertainty, the banking crisis, and now the coronavirus are all changing the workplace, not just for Facilities Management but for society and the world we live in.
There can be no denying that in a world characterized by VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous environment), Facilities and Workplace leaders now have a choice to make, accept the unknown and focus on reacting in the moment or seek out new ways to observe and proactively guide their workplace in a manner that will counteract the risks and impacts associated with our new VUCA environment.
So how can we move not just from reactive to proactive, but to adaptive?
I recently undertook a strategic review on how to adapt and present a dynamic approach to mitigate the risk associated with VUCA, allowing organizations to develop strategies that not only ensure long-term sustainable prosperity but also seek out the opportunity to leverage the benefits of a VUCA environment.
The challenge is to change how we plan strategically and to base our strategy in the core principles of change management.
My 4 Ds model focuses on the key changes that need to be implemented to deliver long term success.
Drive Change - Don’t wait for the burning platform before seeking to change. Kotter’s eight step model works well:
Data - Workplace technologies, IT platforms, and ERP systems - ensuring real time internal information to be able to react immediately to an event, combined with Local Knowledge utilization, therefore adapting to trigger points to improve decision-making in an accelerated fashion
Dynamic - Agile and dynamic Leadership and resource management to steer the organization through the changing environment at pace.
Change isn’t just coming, it’s here! We now live and work in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world and the sooner the facilities and workplace industry embraces it, the better it will be for our customers and clients.
“As we grow, we adapt. As we adapt, we learn. As we learn, we create our stories”
SKILLINGS Education have partnered with Lpc Cresa Training to provide workshops to commercial tenants and occupiers
Published in the 2019 October|December Facility Management Magazine.
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