‘It’s Important to Not React Too Soon’: 3 Keys for Avoiding a Radical Post-COVID Return to the Office

Interior innovator Jo Staffelbach Heinz offers a different perspective on how to approach life in the post-pandemic office space as employees return to the workplace.

Planning a radical, COVID-19-fueled change for your physical office space?

Not so fast, according to Jo Staffelbach Heinz, a principal at integrated design firm DLR Group|Staffelbach, which employs 1,200 people in 29 global locations.

“It’s important to not react too soon,” she said, speaking at a Back-to-Work virtual discussion on Wednesday, June 3, organized by the Dallas Regional Chamber. “We need to approach this in cycles. Radical, fast changes aren’t necessarily the right (decision) in many areas.”

During her portion of the discussion, which featured both health care professionals and other innovators, Heinz presented a somewhat familiar, yet radical, long-term look at life in a post-pandemic office. She said what’s key in the process is easing employees back into offices equipped to alleviate fears of their offices making them sick.

Here are three key takeaways from Heinz’s discussion:

Offices aren’t going anywhere. They’ll just look different.

“Offices will remain a talent magnet, and people want to be there,” said Heinz. “Social distancing will be the guideline. There will be new regimes and rules as we return to the office.”

She added that innovation is critical for companies and organizations, and workers are missing their opportunities for brainstorming with one another in person.

Say ‘goodbye’ to your office tchotchkes, synthetic fabrics, and the person who works across from you.

“There will be a clearing of desks,” she said. “And opposite of where you sat, there will be no one,” Staffelbach said. “Social distancing will result in 50 percent density reduction.”

“We’re going to see a return to natural materials,” she added. “There’s a reason there was a butcher block. There’s a reason we use natural timber. There is a reason we use natural leather. [That’s] because those materials had inherent, good qualities that endure. So, we see some of those materials [and] we see more antimicrobial materials. We see things being used… that can be cleaned effectively. The metals, the aluminums, the plastics are challenging to clean, so we will refer to more natural organic materials. We’re also looking at a clean desk policy, where people are not personalizing their spaces as much because they need to be disinfected. We’re recommending for our clients disposable desk covers so that at night, wrap everything up and throw it away.”

It’s all about easing the transition from self-isolation to a safe working environment.

“If the workplace isn’t clean, people won’t feel comfortable in the office,” said Staffelbach.

Review the DLR group’s post-COVID-19/resilient workplace strategies.

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