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Safely Returning to Work: How We’re Doing It
Progressive AE’s workplace strategy is directly tied to how we work, supporting the unique needs of our teams and projects. This includes the physical space but also the behaviors, tools, and resources required to make the space function successfully. In order to meet the needs of our diverse organization, our design has focused on supporting how we work through a variety of choices.
LET’S START WITH THE WHY
Why is returning to the office important?
- Our office is a testimonial to our culture and work. We’re able to demonstrate our own investment in a thoughtfully designed work environment.
- Our office helps communicate our strategy of Performance Based Design and serves as a testimonial of how space can support and improve business goals.
- We’ve created a collaborative teaming environment where greater efficiencies – communication, workflow, and outcomes – are gained. This translates to greater value for our clients.
- The work environment supports a cross-disciplinary and fully integrated client and project-centric team structure.
In short, we’re able to do our best collaboration when we’re together. While working from home has been successful and comes with certain advantages, we know there is value in being together.
OUR WAY OF WORKING
Rather than limiting work to a single desk, our offices include a variety of available workspaces. This allows staff to choose where they work based on the task at hand. This is often referred to as Activity-Based Working.
Our headquarters in Grand Rapids, MI, is designed using a neighborhood concept, with one neighborhood per quadrant of the building. Neighborhoods are made up of individual work areas surrounded and intermingled with shared spaces of varied sizes and postures – all designed to support the many types of work we do throughout the day. Workstations within each neighborhood are provisioned the same, bringing equity and consistency to all employees.
Each neighborhood houses a specific mix of individuals based on the footprint of the space and the required adjacencies between groups. Our primary focus on team collocation and integration. Teams in some neighborhoods have a clear boundary, where other boundaries are blurred to facilitate shared resources. The space was designed to be flexible and amenable to future changes in team makeup and market/business needs.
The enclosed and open work areas that make up each neighborhood are laid out in order to accommodate team based work while still allowing the individual employee to carry out focused or “heads-down” work. Open work areas are located on exterior windows to offer the maximum amount of daylight to all staff. Neighborhoods are provisioned with generous whiteboarding surfaces and flexible technology to encourage impromptu and serendipitous collaboration.
This planning style allows us to choose a place to work based on the task at hand and the level of integration that’s needed.
COVID-19 has upended the way we work, sending us to home offices and the dining room table for nearly 3-months. In this time we’ve adapted in ways we couldn’t have imagined. Technology has allowed us to remain connected, and we’ve learned how to remain efficient and productive while working remotely.
Now we begin the slow and gradual return to our physical office and the process of learning new behaviors as we discover our new normal. We’ll experinece a long transition period where teams will be split between office and remote work, and we anticipate in the long-run that team members will expect a higher-level of autonomy over where and how they work.
So why focus on returning to the physical workplace now?
WE STILL START WITH THE WHY
The reason to return to the physical office will vary for each organization. At Progressive AE, we do our best creative work when teams can be together and collaborate in real-time. While it will be some time before we can truly connect in this way, we know we need to start somewhere. A slow and methodical phased re-entry plan will allow us to mitigate risks and keep an eye on community spread that may impact our approach.
With a clear understanding of why we would return to the office along with federal and state-issued guidelines, we started our re-entry planning by evaluating our current conditions. In this evaluation, we identified the size of existing circulation routes and the density of people within spaces. This helped us see possible pinch points where physical distancing guidelines would be difficult to maintain.
We realized that our spaces could accommodate all staff in the workplace with a few modifications while still maintaining the recommended 6’ of separation. However, the width of certain stairways and pathways did not allow for safe physical distancing. In addition, we know that we need to provide for some movement while we work at our desks, so we determined that a larger separation would be necessary for our initial return.
Here’s an overview of our anticipated phased approach to our office re-entry:
Phase 1: Initial Steps
- Reduce office density by 40%
- No external visitors
- Limit staff gathering to no more than 6
- Staff are asked to wear masks while moving around the office
Phase 2: Intermediate Steps
- Reduce office density by 20%
- Certain external visitors are allowed including clients and partners
- Limit staff gatherings to no more than 10
- Staff may choose to wear masks while in the office
Phase 3: New Normal
- No reduction in office density
- Visitors are allowed but will be asked to self-report their health status
- Virtual meetings will still be strongly encouraged when possible
- Staff may choose to wear masks while in the office
PHASE 1 APPROACH
Circulation plans demonstrate how we should be entering, exiting, and flowing throughout the building. Take note of certain one-way paths and pinch-points in the office, and take care to allow space for coworkers as we circulate near and around each other.
Occupancy plans explain the expected use of spaces. For Phase 1, the number of meeting spaces have been reduced and max occupancy within the remaining meeting spaces is lower than normal. Many of our small meeting spaces are being used for individual touch-down spaces for team members who haven’t been designated with an owned desk during Phase 1.
Signage will be posted throughout the office to help support our understanding of how a space we know so well should now be used.
While many things will look different moving forward, we don’t foresee a long-term fundamental change in our approach to activity-based working. Our adjustments in the short-term will focus on physical and psychological health and safety of our employees, with gradual adjustments as we feel comfortable loosening our standards.