Hartford Business Journal

May 4, 2020

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20 Hartford Business Journal • May 4, 2020 • www.HartfordBusiness.com Here's how office environments could change when we return to work By Joe Cooper jcooper@hartfordbusiness.com F rom air purifiers, to hands-free technology, face masks and ultraviolet phone sanitizing stations — the workplace is shap- ing up to look very different after the coronavirus pandemic subsides. While it's still unclear when Con- necticut's non-essential businesses will return to the office, many Greater Hartford employers are already think- ing about how to implement stag- gered shifts, extend workspace divid- ers, reconfigure seating and purchase adaptable furniture and technology to boost safety protocols and raise confidence in the workplace. "Things that were great a few months ago will now be looked at in a different light," Shana Schloss- berg, CEO and founder of Hartford co-working space Upward, said in a recent MetroHartford Alliance webi- nar on the future of work following COVID-19. "Raising confidence and transparency will be so important." Schlossberg says the health crisis has already forced some small startups and large companies leas- ing overflow space at Upward's 34,000-square-foot Stilts Building facility downtown to downsize. But she's still confident Upward will be able to fill unoccupied space as it looks to adopt new office technologies, and reconfigure existing workstations and common areas to meet new safety standards and tenant needs. "The larger clients will still need this type of space for additional space," she added. "It just may change how they use it or when they use it." Employers are eager to learn which new mandates already established for essential companies will stick around after the economy reopens, said Joe Brennan, CEO and president of the Connecticut Business & Industry As- sociation (CBIA), who is also a member of an advisory group tasked with com- ing up with recommendations on how to reopen Connecticut businesses. Social distancing will continue to be the new norm and current guide- lines suggest office environments may need to enforce the use of face masks when stay-at-home orders are lifted, Brennan said. That raises many questions for em- ployers, including whether they will be required to supply masks for work- ers. There are also concerns about employers' role in testing workers and whether employees more susceptible to the negative effects of COVID-19 might be required to telecommute for a longer period of time. "You need to have adequate testing to open up the workforce," Brennan said. There are also challenges associated with keeping public gathering spaces — like lunch rooms, stairwells and parking ga- rages — safe. The burden of these potential issues could shy employers away from returning to the office, Brennan said. "These are all questions that need to be answered but employers need to be looking at their workspace and trying to determine how they will adapt to guidelines that will likely be coming down," Brennan said. "If you can con- duct business remotely … then I think you will continue to see that." Office changes The potential for crowded work environments is creating anxiety for many corporate office tenants and building owners across Connecticut, area brokers and designers say. Rebecca Sarkosi, an associate and director of interior design at Farm- ington's QA+M Architecture, says early talks with clients suggest the open office trend will change dra- matically as employees take steps to limit the spread of COVID-19. Large communal areas previously used for lounge, small meeting or cafe space could be converted to dedicated or temporary worksta- tions as employers increase physi- cal distance between employees, Sarkosi said. Employees may also be spread out across workstations previously meant for future hires, or others recently furloughed. Despite the speculation, Sarkosi says her clients have yet to make any bold office moves or long-term changes. "How offices might change depends on many factors includ- ing size of staff and physical space, office culture and what the office space is like currently," she said. Larger corporate offices, she said, will undergo the biggest shifts as those companies have the capital to invest in new safety measures, such as new air-filtration systems, doorless bathrooms and locker rooms, addi- tional cubicle panels, and hands-free faucets, water fountains, trash cans, recycling machines and paper-towel dispensers, among other high-tech devices. UV phone-sanitizing stations and mounted hand sanitizers should also be widely available to office work- ers, Sarkosi said. At smaller offices, she said a cheaper solution to promote social distancing would be adjusting the direction of computer screens, or implementing glass or acrylic work dividers to maintain a sense of vi- sual openness. "The overall better hygiene-relat- ed design elements and practices will serve us all well for reducing common colds and seasonal flu," Sar- kosi said. "We will learn how much we can benefit from being agile and adaptive in our built environments and will emerge on the other side of this with increased productivity and a renewed perspective." Lamont's take When it comes to framing em- ployer concerns, Gov. Ned Lamont pictures the workplace at his former telecom business. "This is just Ned talking back when I had the cable company," the governor said in a recent interview with HBJ about reopening Connect- icut's economy. "I would probably let THE REAL DEAL Rebecca Sarkosi, Associate and Director of Interior Design, QA+M Architecture Workers, like those at Travelers Cos. pictured above, may have desks facing away from each other to prevent the spread of germs amid COVID-19. PHOTO | HBJ FILE

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