As European countries anxiously await the light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to COVID-19, there remains little certainty as to when restrictions will be eased, what the new normal might look like, and what lasting changes the pandemic will bring to our lives.
To get an idea of how both employers and office providers can best navigate this uncertainty, we turned to the ultimate source of truth, the end-user. In partnership with Concrete VC, we asked employees what would make them “feel safer returning to the workplace” after restrictions are eased.
In it, 20 potential suggestions were posited to participants, who were asked to rank each dependent on whether they would make them feel 1) not at all safer, 2) a little safer, or 3) a lot safer.
The measures were chosen for being feasible to implement in the foreseeable future by either office providers or employers.
The survey also allowed respondents to comment on how they felt the COVID-19 situation would change office space in the future.
Here are our key findings, according to the general themes touched upon in the survey:
Not got time? Scroll down for the key takeaways and table of results.
Increased Hygiene Measures Will Be Critical
Across the board, hygiene matters were hugely important to respondents in the survey, and the good news is that there are measures that both employers and office providers can do to address this.
While few people cared about replacing office cafeterias with self-service options, detailed cleaning protocols with daily antiviral spraying was the most popular measure among respondents—of which 94% said it would make them feel safer.
This was closely followed by compulsory handwashing on entrance, and readily available masks and sanitiser.
Antimicrobial coatings and air filtration were considered moderately impactful.
The importance of ensuring that extra care is taken to minimise contamination in shared toilet areas was also brought up by respondents. At HubbleHQ, we have already had requests from businesses searching for private toilet facilities as opposed to shared washrooms with cubicles—further corroborating this pattern.
The value of employers ramping up hygiene efforts themselves was evident in many of the anecdotal responses, too. Some even emphasised the necessity for businesses to have an educational programme that trains employees to have better hygiene standards, or stricter guidance from management around good practices that should be adhered to, with social pressure to obey.
Interestingly, only 68% felt that compulsory mask-wearing would make them feel safer—though we anticipate that this could change once there is more clarity from the government around the effectiveness of masks.
Social Distancing Must Remain
It comes as no surprise that increased social distancing measures proved to be some of the most popular among participants in the survey.
Of the ideas put forward, the most impactful centred around reducing the number of people in the office at any given time (through formal WFH rotas or split shifts), and starting/finishing the working day off-peak, with 87% and 90% of respondents choosing these options, respectively.
This also indicates that a major source of concern around returning to work is public transport, as opposed to the office environment alone, and a number of anecdotal responses cited packed trains and the number of “touchpoints” on their commute being amongst their greatest concerns about returning to the workplace.
Nevertheless, of medium impact among the measures enforceable by workspace providers were increased distance boundaries between desks and lower limits on lift capacities, whilst significantly revised corporate sick policies and minimum social distancing rules for meetings are changes that employers could introduce.
On the lower end of the scale, company rotas (shared/serviced workspaces designating certain days and times to certain companies) seemed to make little difference to safety perception, even in larger offices, and neither did opening satellite offices.
Plexiglass shields between desks and an end to communal meeting rooms also appeared to have a lower impact.
The More Information, the Better
Nothing inspires safety quite like those 10-minute tests we’re being promised, and making these a requirement for anyone entering the building appears to be one of the best things an office provider can do to make their occupiers feel safe, with 89% of respondents believing it would make them feel safer— significantly outweighing the perceived effect that centralised COVID-19 resources would have on people’s safety (68%).
Marginally more popular was compulsory temperature testing at the entrance, which was chosen by 71% of respondents.
Across the board, flexible attitudes to office working were a common theme amongst the responses—both in the short and long-term.
In the short-term, many participants in the survey said that they would prefer to work from home until a vaccine becomes available—primarily because of their or relations’ vulnerability to the disease. One respondent commented that the added stress around COVID-19 could even inhibit productivity in the workplace right now.
Looking further ahead, responses indicated that employees expect WFH to be much more common in the future, even once things have settled down. Will we move towards needing a WFO acronym as well as WFH?
This means it’s likely that businesses will seek much more flexibility in their office space strategy—preferring to stay agile and responsive to what they need from their workspace, and becoming more reluctant to commit to long-term contracts.
The full results:
In the following table you can find the full list of proposed solutions, ranked by the percentage of respondents who voted with a 2 or 3 (i.e. they felt the measure would make them feel safer in some regard):
The survey was taken by 200 people, 40% of which fell in the 30-39 age bracket, and over 80% of which worked in an office space with under 200 other employees.
- Staggered start and end times that allow employees to avoid the rush hour was the most popular measure that employers could implement.
- The commute and public transport is one of the biggest blockers for employees thinking about their return to work, particularly in busy cities.
- Formal WFH rotas/split shifts were also popular measures.
- Heavily revised corporate sick policies and minimum social distancing rules for meetings were considered moderately impactful.
- Flexible policies around remote working would be expected by many employees even once the crisis is over, with companies not adopting them being the outsiders.
For office providers:
- Many of the measures that would make occupiers feel a lot safer were centred around more stringent hygiene protocols, notably:
- Daily antiviral cleans
- Supplies of masks, gloves and hand sanitisers
- Compulsory hand-washing on entrance
- Once available, compulsory coronavirus testing for entrants to an office building would make 89% of respondents feel safer.
- The following measures would make the majority of employees feel safer in some regard:
- Antimicrobial coatings on surfaces
- Antimicrobial air filtration
- Lower limits on lift capacities
- There was a general aversion to open-plan offices, given the increased risk of contamination, and 87% of respondents felt that increased boundaries between desks would make them feel safer.
- Many respondents anticipate a more ad-hoc approach to office usage in the future, with more people working remotely on a regular basis—requiring increased flexibility in contracts.
Unsure about how to approach your office space strategy at this time?