Photo by Richard Hurd
Eppstein Uhen Architects: Free Address as an Unexpected Workplace Strategy in a Post COVID-19 World
Change is the only constant, so prepare to be nimble
Sharing a work setting seems counter-intuitive when thinking about spreading germs, after all this “Safer at Home” period has increased our digital sharing but frowns on physical sharing. When we finally return to work, the workplace precautions around spreading germs will be a priority. This will focus on cleanliness and physical distancing (also staying home if you are sick).
At the same time, with companies forced to have employees work from home for extended periods of time, employees naturally get better and more comfortable at working this way. This could fundamentally shift the percentage of time we spend in the office. The inherent positives of working from home (less germs, flexible hours, easy commute, better focus time (for some), pets, neighborhood walks and so on), will continue to be a draw to work from home more often. That may mean more empty desks at the office. And with many companies feeling financial strain due to the current economy or the need to increase social distancing for those who do come in, a free address model (in part or in full) could help reduce costs or at the very least, allow more space between seats. It can also setup an organization to react nimbly in an ever-changing world.
Based on designing numerous Free Address workplaces and having personally worked in one, the three most common reasons I see for Free Address are to: Reduce Real Estate Costs, Provide Work Setting Choice and Flexibility to Change Quickly. And now, changes to the workplace due to prevent the spread of disease could become another reason. Here is how it could work.
Cleanliness: How often do you clean your current assigned desk? My guess is that most of us can’t even remember. With all the stuff on your desk (computer, keyboard, mouse, headset/phone, papers, mugs, photos, documents, snacks, etc.) it’s hard to clean. One of the perks of a Free Address seat is the clean desk policy, a standard rule for any Free Address workplace. At the end of your use the desk needs to be clear. One advantage of a clear desk: it’s quick and easy to sanitize. Nightly cleaning crews that previously only vacuumed, cleaned bathrooms and emptied trash can expand their services to include disinfecting desks and chairs. That way every morning, desks and surrounding areas will be disinfected and ready to use for whomever comes into the office.
Some clean considerations for Free Address desk sharing:
- Avoid sharing keyboards, mice and headsets by providing each employee his/her own. At the end of each day these items go with the employee to their assigned storage locker, or in their bag to work from home.
- Provide cleaning wipes and sprays for employees to use in addition to the nightly cleaning. Allowing employees to clean the spaces and items they want will ease their stress while making the space even cleaner.
- If one person uses a desk for any portion of the day it should be considered unavailable until the next morning until sanitized overnight. A simple sticker or post-it can indicate which desk was sanitized and when.
Physical Distancing: Individual work setting sizes have been steadily decreasing, bringing teams closer together, to increase communication and save on real estate costs. Now the focus has shifted to distancing employees to stop the spread of germs. With free address seats, we can ensure work settings are correctly spaced out versus with traditional assigned seating where employees that come in on any given day may have assigned seats that are too close. At the same time there might be an empty row or zone somewhere else in the office that could have been used. With Free Address seating, employees can choose to sit at safe distances. If current desk locations are too dense, every other desk can be set as available. As we transition back to the office, some companies might choose to have rotating days when certain teams or departments are in the office (to reduce overall in-office staff per day); Free Address seating can easily accommodate those shifts, while allowing each group to be correctly spaced out.
Being Nimble: No one knows exactly what the post COVID-19 workplace will look like with shifting government/industry guidelines, employees’ varying levels of anxiety and unknown changes to the business environment. What organizations can do is ensure they are setup to be nimble. The common phrase ‘Change is the only constant’ is even more important with such an unknown future. A Free Address workplace is formatted for change. An employee in a Free Address workplace is familiar with working in different settings. If an office needs to expand, reduce, move, spread out, change department locations, temporarily move for construction, etc., a Free Address staff can easily flow with those disruptions. This allow organizations to quickly shift for the betterment of its employees and business.
When considering a Free Address workplace, the emphasis should always be on “Free.” For many, the freedom to choose your work setting was already a perk even before this COVID-19 era, whether that was for focus, team or collaborative work. Top companies realized that trusting and empowering their employees on how and where they work increases engagement and empowers employees to do their best work. I believe that the freedom to choose to work from home in some capacity will continue after workplaces open again. While Free Address work settings might initially seem counter to the spread of viruses, with the right protocols its benefits for easy cleaning and physical distancing can help companies be nimble with a returning workforce in an ever-changing world. A Free Address workplace could be an unexpected strategy.
Workplace strategies are unique to each business and office culture. There is no one-size-fits all solution. That is why EUA asks questions of our clients, studies their environment and aligns with a company’s vision and goals before we agree on a workplace solution. Free Address is not the right answer for every client. We can help craft a strategy that will help each client specifically.