New elevator etiquette, desk manners: Welcome to the post-Covid workplace

Chitra Narayanan New Delhi | Updated on April 25, 2020

New normal The new elevator etiquette will require the occupants to stand well apart from one another, facing the wall

Hygiene privacy is likely to be the norm in the post-pandemic corporate world

Once the lockdown is lifted and you get back to office, things may look different at your workplace.

For starters, you may be thermally scanned at the gate, and will have to file into office in disciplined lines maintaining distance from others. Inside, you will have to learn new elevator etiquette. No more crowding near the lifts or barging in. And you may find that your desk is no longer as close to your neighbour’s, as hygiene privacy becomes the new buzzword.

Facilities management company Embassy Services, which looks after some 70 million sq ft of space, including offices, residences and warehouses, has put together an elevator management guideline that says not more than two to four persons should be inside a lift at a time. Two separate queues with adequate social distances will be maintained in front of the elevator — one for the higher floors and the other for the lower ones. Employees will be urged to take the staircase, again taking care not to crowd.

Takeaways preferred

Tables at the office canteen or food court will be rearranged per Ministry of Home Affairs guidelines on social distancing. “We recommend the takeaway option to avoid crowding at the food courts,” Embassy’s property management protocol note says.

“As the new norms of distancing kick in, the density of offices will have to reduce. No longer can you pack in people like a can of worms in a small space,” said Pradeep Lala, Managing Director and CEO of Embassy Services, which undertakes governance of all the services in a building, manages technical systems like air-conditioning and sewage, and also offers janitor services.

The 50 sq ft or so of space currently demarcated to a person will rise to 150 sq ft, he added. Companies will have to rotate work from home and work from office for employees to ensure spacing in office, he noted.

Embassy Services has already started planning for the new normal, where it sees facilities management becoming an occupational health solution. It foresees the use of its janitor services going up, and more of a company’s budget going into the cleaning and sanitisation bucket.

“Air-conditioning ducts are being already talked about as a major hazard and you will see the periodicity of cleaning go up,” said Lala. Washrooms will be disinfected every two hours in the new normal.

Deep-cleaning activities

For Tenon Group, which provides both security services and cleaning under its facilities management umbrella, the cleaning part has already shot up hugely. The firm’s 16 specially fitted out vans, which carry equipment for shampooing carpets, polishing marble and all kinds of deep cleaning, are working 24-hour shifts daily. “We had two six-member teams on the vans to do deep cleaning, now we have had to raise it to three teams per van,” said Manjit Rajain, Executive Chairman of Tenon Group. The van teams have already, in a short span of time, deep-cleaned 7 million sq ft in Gurugram, Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Chennai. As soon as the lockdown is lifted, Rajain said, he is going to get six more such vans on the roads.

In the near future, a lot of automation will come into buildings, said Rajain. “We were already seeing self-opening doors fitted with sensors and virtual receptionists. That trend could accelerate,” he added. Praveen Rawal, Managing Director, India, Singapore and SEA of Steelcase, an office furniture and workplace consultancy firm, feels investments in technology will go up in in office spaces. "A lot of things will operate through remote controls and intelligent systems," he says, adding that leadership will have to become more thoughtful and trusting and respectful of employees in order to allow more work from home to reduce density at offices.

Will companies end up having to invest more in facilities management?

Roping in robots

Lala observed that if a company is now spending 15 per cent of its facilities management budget in cleaning services, that component could go up to 20 per cent, but it might cut down on other costs such as AMCs. “For our part, we will try and ensure costs don’t go up by deploying more robotic cleaning solutions and automated options,” he said.

Will these changes be lasting? Or, by maybe next year, will workplaces go back to pre-Covid behaviour? Time will tell, said Lala and Rajain, pointing out that it all depends on a vaccine being found.

Talent management expert and future of work observer Abhijit Bhaduri says the whole concept of space will be re-imagined at workplaces. "We have never thought of space so deeply. It, along with health, now becomes a new important variable , for people emerging from the trauma of the lockdown," he says. The other difference in new workplaces will be more use of collaboration tools To navigate the new workplace, however, he warns, you can't come with the mindset of the old.

Bhaduri also adds that these changes will probably only be in big corporations. What will a start-up operating out of a garage with six to eight people crammed together do, he asks. Or companies that have suffered deep losses and have no money? Also, he wonders if offices that have paid three-year leases to co-working spaces for seats really cancel these. Pandemics affect the weak and even in businesses, that will be the case, he sums up.

Published on April 25, 2020

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