Who doesn’t want to be in a good neighborhood – one that’s aesthetically pleasing, has a controlled traffic flow, with great neighbors close but not too close? The office “neighborhood” is predicted to become the primary workplace model for the new hybrid workstyle.
The hybrid workplace, combining a flexible schedule, WFH (work-from-home), and in-office work, sprang up as a way to reduce the risk of covid transmission. It has delivered unexpected benefits: Surprising productivity increases, along with reduced real estate overhead.
Even with a covid vaccine in sight, the hybrid office isn’t likely to disappear any time soon. According to research this year by workplace design consultants Gensler, 52% of workers want to continue dividing their time between home and office. Only 19% wanted to work in the office full time.
Now designers are defining the shape of the ideal hybrid workplace, and the “neighborhood” format seems to answer all the design criteria. Work activities are clustered into “zones” based on the need for privacy or collaboration, quiet head-down tasks, or work involving conference calls or in-person conversations.
Elizabeth Lowrey of Elkus Manfredi Architects describes the hybrid office neighborhoods as incorporating support tools for remote workers (video conference equipment and imaged documents), and flexibility to manage future workplace change. She emphasizes the need to make the hybrid office a magnet. If the office is a choice, not a mandate, it has to be an attractive one.
Neighborhoods also have to be defined physically. As Robert Frost said, “Good fences make good neighbors.” Guiding foot traffic through the office is especially important for maintaining social distance and for preserving quiet in heads-down neighborhoods.
One option for office boundaries and traffic is a locker structure. Modern lockers have customizable finishes to complement office furnishings, adding to the attractiveness of the workplace. Many include keyless touchless locks to reduce contagious touch surfaces.
And lockers provide essential storage for hybrid workplaces. Employees who aren’t in the office full time tend to bring a lot of stuff with them when they come into the office. Without an assigned workstation or office, all that stuff has to be stored somewhere.
The new hybrid workplace can be defined as a place where people feel welcomed, where they have supportive tech and a sense of social belonging, where their best work can be done. That sounds like a neighborhood we’d all like to live in.
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Like many familiar aspects of business life, the form and function of offices are undergoing rapid change to fit the new reality. Today’s challenges have been an opportunity for reflection and reinvention, in business as well as in our personal lives. As our business operations adapt to the new normal, office designs are shifting to accommodate new workstyles.
Hybrid offices are one example of a pre-Covid trend accelerated by the pandemic. WFH has been far more productive than expected, but teams still feel the need for face-to-face collaboration for certain tasks. Consulting firm Gensler describes the hybrid workplace as promoting collaboration through activity-based design, using advanced technology and unassigned seating within a hospitality-driven atmosphere. Teams work remotely, coming together in a hybrid office as required.
A few major organizations have been test-driving the hybrid office in a hub-and-spokes design. A centrally hub office in the city center provides room for larger group activities, while smaller outlying offices give support to WFH staff living nearby. Hybrid offices reduce office space in the expensive city center, while preserving a visible presence.
Repurposing office buildings’ lobbies is another new-normal trend. In a hub-and-spokes office, the spokes facilities can be integrated into the surrounding community, creating connections among WFH staffers, clients, and the neighborhood. Buildings’ public spaces offer a branding opportunity for tenants to underscore their community involvement, as well as a meeting destination for workers and visitors.
To ensure that these new workplaces function well, designers and office managers are applying the latest in digital technology.
WFH staff need access to project materials whether they’re at home, at a spoke office, or at the central hub. In the hybrid office, paper documents may be stored at the hub, with limited access. But imaged documents are accessible to remote workers no matter where they are. The paper originals remain safely stored in the hub office.
Touchless technology is another asset for the reshaped office. RFID-based apps enable safe touchless entry to secure areas. Touchless lockers provide personal storage for WFH workers traveling to spoke or hub offices. Designers can even use touchless lockers as a physical divider to guide foot traffic and maintain safe social distancing.
Gensler predicts that the new style of office building will be far less insular and self-contained, and far more responsible to its community through creating public spaces, support businesses, and a live-work-play environment. Technology that supports human capital will be the key to successful office design in the new reality.
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Safety is on everyone’s mind these days. The same forces which have disrupted daily life is also disrupting the way facilities are designed, utilized, and maintained. Fast Company is forecasting that the hottest new job in commercial real estate and facilities management is the director of environmental health– a medical expert, preferably with expertise in infectious diseases.
The director of environmental health will be tasked with assessing the health risks posed by current operational systems and policies, and making recommendations for facility-wide changes that reduce health risks. However, individual landlords and tenants are going to be responsible to some degree for including health and safety elements within their own spaces.
Every office uses space differently. High-touch surfaces, traffic patterns, and distancing policies will have be designed to fit each tenant’s needs. Touchless technologyis already available for doors, electronic devices, and personal storage lockers. Touchless lockers with attractive design-friendly finishes can also be used as a separation structure to guide internal traffic, maintain social distance, and reduce contagion.
Also useful in social distancing are RFID wearables that alert staffers when they are too close to each other. RFID(radio frequency identification) is a mature, proven technology for asset management, from inventory control to document tracking to process management. It’s a simple matter to add RFID proximity wearables.
Angelo Bianco of Crocker Partners, a commercial real estate owner with 11 million square feet of office space, predicts that many commercial office space organizations will hire environmental health directors. A focus on enhanced health and safety systems could be a strong marketing advantage in the highly competitive commercial real estate industry. Additionally, having a medical expert on staff is a risk management strategy; owners and operators of commercial properties are protected from claims of health-related negligence.
Tenants, too, can derive some risk management benefits by installing hardware and furnishings specifically designed for workplace well-being. Although many businesses have learned that work-from-home is a productive and cost-effective workstyle, a hybrid of WFH and office is emerging as the new normal. As offices are repopulated, either part-time or full-time, health-oriented designs and policies are going to be the new future of facilities management.
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Touchless technology isn’t a twenty-first century innovation. Automatic sliding doors were ubiquitous long before the “Star Trek” set designers included them on The Enterprise. But now in the COVID-19 era, zero-touch technology has come to the forefront as one of the ways reopened businesses can reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
Current research shows that the coronavirus enters the body through the mouth, eyes, and nose. One of the ways virus particles are carried to those entry points is by our own hands; we touch contaminated surfaces then unconsciously touch our faces.
Think of the number of surfaces you touch in the workplace: door handles, chair backs and arms, desktops, pens, notepads, keyboards. And that’s all before you go to the break room and pick up the coffee pot which may or may not have been touched by someone else who may or may not have clean hands. It’s enough to make us all germ-phobic!
Good news: New applications of touchless technology are helping us get back to work without spreading the coronavirus on high-touch surfaces. As reported in Fast Company, voice command technology is one solution that many designers are extending into new areas. Elevators, for example, can be controlled via voice command using technology that already exists. Another touch-free technology: Gesture readers. Retrofitted touchscreens can read gestures without a user actually touching the surface – a big help for retail and museum settings where touchscreens are in common use.
In offices, zero-touch technology is already available. Touchless lockers are one way to keep work areas both uncontaminated and uncluttered. Staffers use RFID-enabled ID badges to unlock their assigned lockers. When these lockers are configured into full height or counter height partitions, they control foot traffic and maintain social distance.
Voice technology, too, is finding its way into offices. Voice commands can link together computers, monitors, and conference systems for presentations and meetings. Presenters avoid manual contact with cables or keyboards.
Everyone is pledged to new cleanliness strategies to reduce the risk of virus transmission as businesses reopen. However, it’s not practical to disinfect every surface continually throughout the day. Zero-touch technologies like touchless lockers, voice commands, and gesture readers are helping to make safe reopenings a reality.
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Those bold, shameless porch pirates are out in force, appropriating delivered goods and selling them for whatever they can get. But there could be a different kind of “porch pirate” targeting your business – data thieves who trade in the business of stolen information.
Whether it’s package theft or data theft, it affects your bottom line. In cases of HIPAA violations, identity theft, or other unauthorized information releases, you can face costly fines and lawsuits. And your profits take a hit when you have to replace shipments that the customer never received.
When clients don’t trust your security, they take their business elsewhere. Fortunately, there are some smart storage technologies that boost security and reduce your liability.
- Imaging – Paper is often called an “ephemeral medium.” It’s easy to lose, easy to damage or destroy, and easy to steal. Document imaging shields your business from the liability of missing documents and information theft. The electronic versions of your documents are accessible only to authorized users. With the originals shredded or in secure archives, your imaged documents are safe in their virtual file cabinet. Those who shouldn’t touch your documents will not be able to lay their hands on them, quite literally.
- Smart lockers – Amazon was one of the earliest adopters of smart-locker technology. A customer’s package is delivered to a numbered locker with an electronic lock automatically set to a one-time combination. The combination is emailed or texted to the customer, who can then retrieve the package at a convenient time. Smart lockers are now cropping up in apartment complexes, in college campuses, and in business settings, eliminating highly insecure door delivery. It’s a win for the package recipients and a win for the business or the property management.
- Secure high-density storage – High-density storage systems are known for their space-saving attributes, reducing storage footprints by as much as 50%. Sliding on floor-mounted rails, these systems eliminate all but one aisle between shelving units. Their electronic locks eliminate something else: unauthorized access to sensitive material such as patient health records, legal documents, or intellectual property. Locks can be programmed to track access based on security codes. Biometric locks add an even greater level of security.
People are wising up to the ways smart technology can defeat porch pirates around their homes. Talk to a storage consultant who can help you assemble the right security solutions to keep the porch pirates and data thieves out of your business.
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The IRS is acting like Oprah, and small businesses across the U.S. are benefiting. Thanks to Section 179, the IRS is handing out a $1,000,000 deduction to every small business that puts qualifying equipment and/or software into use before the end of the year. Rather than depreciating equipment over the course of several years, Section 179 allows businesses to deduct the full price of equipment in Year 1, up to $1,000,000. That’s an enormous tax benefit.
And it gets better: Even if you finance the equipment rather than paying for it up front, you still qualify for the deduction. Leases as well as purchases are included in this rule. You don’t have to hand over a pile of cash in order to reap the Sec. 179 benefit.
Almost any tangible business-related product qualifies for the deduction, including:
- Equipment purchased for business use
- Computers and off-the-shelf software
- Data hardware (essential for imaged-document storage and access)
- Office furnishings and fixtures, including high density mobile storage and lockers
- Office equipment
- Certain business vehicles, including fork lifts and 9-passenger vans
- Property attached to your building that is not part of the building structure (casework and industrial shelving, for example)
- Tangible personal property used in the business, or equipment with a partial business use
- Some improvements to existing business-only buildings, including security systems, HVAC, and roofing
There’s one small but essential thing to remember: The new equipment must be placed into service by December 31.
With only a few weeks left in the year, that deadline may seem like an insurmountable scheduling problem. Luckily, many business-equipment vendors offer quick-ship programs for their clients who want to take advantage of the Sec. 179 deduction. If you’re planning an equipment acquisition in the first quarter of next year, why not buy it now, put it into use before the end of this year, and get the money the IRS put under your seat?
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