By Justin Biel, trends editor
⏰ 6-minute read
Design collaborative Bergmeyer is using its expertise to help businesses reopen their offices.
The company made its reopening plan public to help others address considerations like office cleaning, social distancing, new health protocols and employee compliance.
Bergmeyer is also consulting with clients on the development of reopening plans and making predictions about the office of the future.
A leading Boston-based design firm has developed a plan not only for reopening its own offices but also for other other businesses to consider, based on its decades of experience building user-friendly spaces for work and play.
Bergmeyer was founded in 1975 as an architectural firm, but it evolved into a full-scope design collaborative. Its projects for iconic clients include creating retail spaces for Samuel Adams and Levi’s Stadium; company offices for WeWork, Mars and Uppababy; and campus venues for UMass Amherst and Harvard University. The firm’s design approach prioritizes the user-friendliness of a given space.
With the outbreak of COVID-19, Bergmeyer put its expertise to work on a new project: an office reentry and physical distancing plan for its business, which others can use to inform their own plans.
4 things to consider in your office reopening plan
The creators of Bergmeyer’s reopening plan imagine it will serve as a guide for both the firm’s two offices — its Boston office will reopen on June 1, and its Los Angeles office will open at an undetermined, later date — as well as for other companies.
Of course, reopening your office involves complying with federal, state and city government guidelines around social distancing and sanitization. Exactly how that’s carried out is largely up to you, and experts recommend making a facilities plan for leadership and employees to follow.
If you’re wondering what a solid reopening plan looks like, Bergmeyer's is an excellent example. The considerations below come from Bermeyer’s open-sourced plan, which is specific to its own offices; they’re not direct recommendations for your company. However, you might borrow applicable practices from this plan or adjust them to fit your company’s needs.
Top considerations include:
1. Preparing the office space — and employees
The first item in Bergmeyer’s reopening plan involves making physical preparations for employees’ safe return to the office and briefing employees on these preparations. For Bergmeyer, this includes:
A deep clean the week before reopening.
Modifications such as moving desks to accommodate social distancing and hanging signs alerting employees to new policies.
Distributing the company reopening plan to employees prior to reopening, so they can get familiar with the office’s new safety policies and staggered work schedule.
2. Adhering to social distancing guidelines
To accommodate the city of Boston’s social distancing guidelines, Bergmeyer chose a phased reopening approach for its office there, limiting employees’ attendance to specific days of the week. Some employees will come into the office on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and others will come on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
At first, just 25% of the office’s employees will follow that schedule; the rest will continue working from home. Two weeks later, another 25% will join them. Two weeks after that, all of the office’s employees will be following the staggered schedule.
New rules around common areas and foot traffic, along with separate workspaces, will also help achieve social distancing.
Bergmeyer developed this section of its plan well ahead of the release of reopening guidelines from the state of Massachusetts, said VP Rachel Zsembery. Those guidelines indeed align with the plan, so Bergmeyer hasn’t needed to change its approach.
Similarly, business leaders should take any local government reopening guidelines into account while creating their own reopening plans, then adjust those plans if guidelines change.
3. Daily office cleanings and health protocols
Bergmeyer has developed general cleaning and health protocols for its offices.
Per the plan, staff will:
Clean desks at the end of each day.
Provide access to disinfectant wipes, sanitizer, hand soap, paper towels and spray cleaner.
Frequently clean surfaces like door handles and elevator buttons.
Complete an office-wide deep cleaning if any employee is diagnosed with COVID-19 or additional stay-at-home orders are released.
During the reopening period, Bergmeyer has requested that all employees:
Wear face masks.
Avoid sharing devices such as laptops and printers.
Limit use of communal areas such as the cafeteria and shared items such as coffee machines and snack bins.
Keep all personal items at their desks instead of in coat checks or storage bins and remove all items from their desks at the end of the day to allow for cleaning.
Bergmeyer will not be screening employees via temperature checks or any other measures during the reopening phase. However, employees must stay home if they have experienced COVID-19 symptoms, been diagnosed or come into contact with someone diagnosed within 14 days. At the onset of symptoms or upon contact with a carrier, employees are instructed to notify human resources immediately, self-quarantine for 14 days and follow a health professional’s instructions.
Visitors will come to the office by appointment only. They’ll be given office protocol checklists before arrival that include check-in procedures, meeting room rules and instructions for drop-off and delivery of packages.
4. Making it easy for employees to do the right thing
Bermeyer created a re-entry floor plan that gives management and staff a visual representation of the new office layout.
The color-coded map shows seats for employees based on which days of the week they’ll be in the office and marks areas that are not in use, like closets and seating areas. It lists new room occupancy limits and includes arrows to show the desired direction of foot traffic.
Bergmeyer is also using "wayfinding essentials" – simple signs and visual cues – to encourage the new flow of foot traffic. The company might paste an arrow poster on each desk, for example, to remind employees to stay six feet apart.
The plan also includes "wayfinding essentials," or signs that the company will post around its office.
? Pro Tip: Sharing a visual representation of your reopening floor plan and posting signs in the office can help employees adopt new social distancing procedures. Use company branding to send a message of togetherness.
Clients look to Bergmeyer for help reopening
After seeing Bergmeyer’s reopening plan, a handful of its clients reached out for help in making plans tailored to their spaces. Zsembery declined to share names but said these clients range from “a large multinational retailer” to a “research laboratory in the Boston area” to a “niche food and beverage association.”
With these clients, Bergmeyer is “using our reentry plan as a basis to explore fundamental questions,” she said. “We work with them to create a branded deck using the company’s voice and an entire suite of graphics.”
Clarity is the aim of the plans, which can be used to reopen one or many of a client’s locations.
“The goal is to create a small and concise package that doesn’t overcomplicate the communication,” Zsembery said. “It must also be practical, easy to implement and adjustable.”
“The goal is to create a small and concise package that doesn’t overcomplicate the communication."
Predictions about the office of the future
According to Zsembery, the office of the near-term future may include clip-in partitions between employee desks, as well as graphics and wayfinding signs similar to those in Bergmeyer’s reopening plan.
In anticipation of continually changing government guidelines, “We're thinking about creating a responsive environment — space that can quickly adapt in response to escalation or de-escalation of an event — both for this crisis but also for future community health challenges, such as in times of seasonal flu,” she said.
“We're thinking about creating a responsive environment — space that can quickly adapt in response to escalation or de-escalation of an event."
COVID-19 could spur new, permanent features of spaces too. Whereas offices of the past might’ve had just one conference room with video conferencing capabilities, Zsembery said, Bergmeyer-designed offices of the future might have video capabilities built into individual desks and alcoves.
Though examples are still scarce, one thing is for sure: COVID-19 has caused companies to rethink the use of office space.
Challenges like these often spur innovation, Zsembery said. That means there’s a chance for Bergmeyer, its clients and the companies who riff on its reopening plan to effectively pioneer the office of the future.
We’re ready to explore that future, one wayfinding sign at a time.