By Donna Hannaway, Marketing Manager for the Office sector at Forbo Flooring Systems
The speed in which the world has changed over the course of this year has been staggering, and this of course has affected the office space and the way that we work. Here, Donna Hannaway, Marketing Manager for the Office sector at Forbo Flooring Systems, discusses the role of flooring in keeping buildings clean, safe and operational and how facilities managers can observe new guidance, such as social distancing, without making the workplace look uninviting.
According to a recent independent polling commissioned by the British Council for Offices (BCO), just one in five (20%) UK adults plan to primarily work from home in the future, while only 16% hope that working from home replaces the office1. Rumours of the demise of the traditional office are therefore much exaggerated and whether employers have already allowed their staff back into offices as they feel it’s safe to do so, or when the time eventually comes to return to work for everyone else, many businesses will need to rethink how the modern office will look and be used as we start to emerge from the pandemic.
As the coronavirus remains active in society, concerns about transmission will remain and companies will need to adapt their workplaces to ensure that they are COVID-secure. The key takeaway from the latest UK government advice is that social distancing of 2m is to be followed wherever possible, as well as the continued emphasis on the importance of good hygiene. This is likely to see offices operating on a rota-basis, reducing the amount of staff on a floor or in a room to physically accommodate social distancing or spaces may be adapted by leaving every other desk empty. In the longer term, organisations may need to completely re-plan their space with larger desks and wider corridors.
In the process of redesigning the office environment, facilities managers should also take into consideration a change of flooring. Flooring impacts the maintenance of facilities and therefore plays a major role in ensuring that buildings remain clean, safe and operational. In addition, a change of flooring can not only affect the appearance and ambience of the environment, giving spaces a new lease of life following a long period of being out of action, but the latest developments in floor coverings can also help to define boundaries and reiterate the need to keep socially distant. It is important that this is done without making offices feel clinical, or employees uncomfortable.
Guidelines from the UK government suggests introducing one-way systems at entry and exit points, as well as in common areas to aid wayfinding and encourage single-file circulation through buildings, which will help to reduce the risk of cross-contamination. While floor stickers and markers can be overbearing, the clever use of arrows incorporated into floor designs can be used to nudge people in the right direction, without being too forceful or demanding.
Modular floor coverings are ideal within office environments, as they can be easily installed and replaced. Now, some manufacturers can offer the added option of directional arrows for existing carpet tile ranges, meaning that facilities managers can create bespoke office floors by choosing the background of the tile and contrasting shade for the arrows. In corridors and areas that require a more hardwearing floor, it is possible to opt for resilient flooring, such as linoleum, with loose arrows cut into the flooring. Contrasting arrows could reflect a company’s colours and create a sense of brand cohesion, for example.
While COVID-19 will undoubtedly change the design and navigation of workspaces, open plan offices, breakout areas and collaboration spaces can play an important role, however, they will need to be modified to meet the new needs of employees. Through the incorporation of zoning, floor coverings in different laying patterns and colours can be used to highlight and separate different working areas. What’s more, keeping teams that collaborate frequently together in a designated space can be one preventative measure to limit the number of unnecessary interactions and potential spread of viruses.
In queues, perhaps in the reception area upon arrival for check-in, the use of circle shapes on the floor can help to encourage colleagues to remain a safe distance apart. In fact, luxury vinyl tiles can be cut out into circle shapes and inlaid within a square tile format; this again can be done in brand colours or even in more funky designs, such as terrazzo, adding a spark of interest to the floor. Offices can also print messages on the floor through social distancing entrancing mats to remind and support everyone’s efforts to keep safe upon arrival at the building.
Finally, for a general refurbishment, disruption and downtime is arguably the most pressing issue, perhaps made even more paramount in the current climate. Facilities managers may also be hesitant to have tradespeople on site for too long therefore it is possible to specify floor coverings that can be installed with minimal downtime and in a timely manner. Adhesive free products provide the ability to do this, whilst still achieving a beautiful new interior. In addition, products can be easily be removed and reused again elsewhere.
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented new and unprecedented challenges for the UK office sector. With the whole world having to adjust their lives to remain safe and prevent the spread of the virus, concerns and complexities now exist as a result of this, including social distancing. However, with the correct floor coverings and by adopting the latest innovations, FM professionals can work together with suppliers to achieve a safe and practical working environment. Flooring manufacturers, such as Forbo Flooring Systems, has launched an array of services, and new products to assist specifiers and facilities managers throughout these challenging times to make offices spaces COVID-secure, as the country begins to emerge from the pandemic.