A Safer Workplace Series with Hollander Design Group

by officeinsight and Hollander Design Group

Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic became a reality for working people everywhere, we’ve been closely following the voices and actions of many – the CDC and other involved governmental agencies, world leaders, architecture and design firms, our industry’s product manufacturers, and more. We’ve tried to pass along the best of those voices in the midst of an absolute upside-down turn of life, work and play as we knew it.

Images: courtesy of Hollander Design Group

One voice we’ve found to be a steadying, anti-panic-inducing, informative force for good is that of Hollander Design Group, an architecture and design firm headquartered in San Diego, California. Hollander Design Group is a small firm headed up by Jeffrey Hollander, and he and his team have been meticulous in engaging with the lightning topic of the pandemic. Hollander and Viveca Bissonnette, Principal & Vice President, began crafting a series of COVID-19 newsletters around their thinking, posted to their website starting this past May.

From their own chronicle of these statements:

“Hollander Design Group is committed to providing thoughtful and current information to our partners and greater community during this uncertain time. Our team is here to support you and your efforts to return to the workplace by solving problems through the power of design.”

“We believe the conversation about safety and security in the workplace will be perpetual. These newsletters reflect serious research into various government and private ‘playbooks’ as well as our considerable experience with clean rooms and a variety of corporate spaces. We are experts in creating warm, thoughtful, and safe spaces reflecting the authentic culture our clients protect.”

“Our newsletters discuss the emotions that need addressing as well as design strategies for the next workplace.”

Our officeinsight team found this information valuable on many levels; the writings convey the need for strength and change, but also restraint. Most importantly, the writings offer practical knowledge and steps forward that can impower the A&D community, their client organizations, and end users themselves.

Viveca Bissonnette, Principal & Vice President, and Jeffrey Hollander, Founder & President, Hollander Design Group.

Over the next several weeks, we will publish these statements and work with the team at Hollander Design Group to continue looking at the most important issues surrounding the pandemic and its effects on the workplace. A note about these writings: as Hollander Design Group is based in California, some of the content is conceived of with California’s heightened codes and regulations in mind, compared to many other states. As many of us across the country have realized, especially in light of COVID-19, state-to-state regulations can vary wildly. However, the team at Hollander Design Group have made clear that the healthy changes many of us are starting to implement should be made available to people in every corner of the country. We agree!

In future installments, we will look at how workplace infrastructure can be adapted to make safer spaces for the future – both immediately and through a longer term lens.

This week, you’ll find the first two statements published here under one feature. Next week, #3 in the series will address air quality.


Returning to a Different Workplace

Why do you bring them back? The benefits of returning to the office should outweigh the risks.

Who wants to come back? There will be a wide varietyof viewpoints.

How do you create a culture that accepts all of the new norms?

The recent pandemic has up-ended our lives in many ways. What we originally thought was going to be a couple weeks is rapidly turning into months, maybe longer. Recall from new dieting and fitness regimens that new behaviors take three months to establish. Many of your staff are already there. In order to survive they changed their behaviors and adapted to new ways of living and working. Many behaviors will likely require much effort and reasons to change back.

Work patterns and schedules have changed. We have saved the cost and time of driving to work each day. Our work wardrobe now has elastic waistbands. We have a new virtual vocabulary: Zoom, Teams and others. This life reset has reminded us about the importance of family and friends. Those with a little slack in our lives have found our need and joy of giving to others.

Before you start thinking about tactics…do I install sneeze guards now? What is the new “work from home” schedule? How many sanitizing stations are adequate? What are the new cleaning protocols? Do I need infrared CCTV?

Consider – flipping a switch and returning to the workplace as before is probably not realistic. We need to understand and prepare for the “new normal” as we start to think about returning to working in the office.

So, what is the first step? Our suggestion:

Do this one thing…establish an authentic and professional trust…and you’ll be fine.

We are faced with a new paradigm…that must be affirmed before any of us are willing to collaborate closely again:

My company values my safety and is transparent about the steps they are taking to protect it.

Further, my teammates share my concerns and treat the situation with equal care and responsibility. One irresponsible actor can put the entire team at risk. To be clear, each organization has a responsibility to make the physical space safe, but equally important we have a shared responsibility to keep each other safe. The organization’s responsibility extends to fostering this shared trust as well.

Importantly, the commitment to manage and maintain a secure and safe environment will be timeless and not timely. Evidence of our efforts will need to be visible consistently.

The information available is overwhelming. We will do our best to keep you updated in the coming weeks and months with the latest intelligence we can gather from government agencies, our clients, facilities professionals and our own team’s experience. We can do this together.


So Now What??

In our last communication we discussed the vital importance of establishing an authentic and professional trust between a company and its team members and between team members as well. Trust is the first key component in our return to a less physically isolated existence.  Organizational culture must evolve to prioritize this trust to create a safe and secure environment. Employers must also embrace the fluid nature of changing federal, state and local guidelines communicating ongoing changes along the way.

Before making physical changes to our workspaces, companies will need to address the different needs and concerns of each employee. Your team’s reactions to returning to work will be varied.

Some will embrace returning to work with open arms.

Some have discovered they prefer to work from home.

Some will be anxious to return to work.

Have you asked your team how they feel? Questions like “what do you miss about being in the office” and “what do you love about working from home” can build a more complete understanding of the particular culture that you have and suggest new policies that will engage your team. What works for team members can be balanced with what works for the company. Communication will be the key to success and may be different for the varying degree of team member readiness.

>For team members who embrace returning to work…

Provide safety training and clear documentation of required safety procedures. Make sure that everyone follows the rules to help those who are less comfortable.

>For team members who are prefer to work from home…

Provide opportunities to work from home with guidelines and boundaries so that organizational culture is also fostered. Develop protocols to keep them included in the office culture.

>For team members who are willing to return to a shared work environment but have concerns…

Encouraging two-way communication is key. Understanding their specific concerns, and communicating what is being done to address these daily, is vital to maintaining trust.

Perhaps an anonymous survey from Facilities/HR to determine what the staff is collectively most concerned about is a great start. However, this is just the beginning. Small, employee selected, committees having heart to heart conversations via Zoom or your meeting software is a sensible and simple way to get the feedback necessary. You must openly encourage all employees to provide their most sincere opinions on their workplace.  This is what will guide the cultural and physical decisions that you may consider. Should these concerns be treated lightly or not discussed, they may be costlier to correct in the future.

As new research is published on COVID-19 and as governmental regulations evolve, employee concerns will change as well.

Most of our clients have already implemented short term strategies for adapting the workplace. We will not repeat the basic steps here, but please contact us if you need help with planning or communication strategies. Managing communication and building consensus has been key to our success in enabling change. We can do this together.