How Pivot Spaces Can Provide Pandemic Relief

I had never heard the term, “pivot space,” before, but it immediately had positive connotations for me. The word, “pivot,” makes me think of flexibility and adaptability. And that’s exactly what these spaces are. They are open spaces with couches, chairs, and even desks, in casual arrangements reminiscent of lounge areas. This approach to workspace configuration is not new, but it is getting renewed attention due to the pandemic’s requirement for social distancing, according to Nuno Fernandes, who published a piece on the subject last week in Work Design Magazine.

“Employee health and well-being are at the heart of the current office rethink. Pivot spaces can be used to distribute staff around the office to maintain physical distancing and adapt accordingly as workplace guidelines change…Ensuring design supports interaction does not mean ‘reinventing the wheel’ and investing large amounts of capital in furniture. But meeting spaces can be reconfigured to encourage socially distanced groups. These spaces will be de-densified, including the removal of some chairs to ensure seating arrangements comply with current social guidelines,” writes Fernandes.

The thought of changing a boardroom from one in which 5 to 10 people are huddled around a long table in a windowless room into an area with more space and light—and greater comfort—is appealing. With many people doing their best not to leave their homes for the last six months for fear of catching Coronavirus, a workplace that is more comfortable and inviting than formal and structured may be just what is needed to help employees transition back to a workplace outside their homes.

Not having a set place where employees have to sit every day is a nice way to add onto the idea of a pivot-space office. When I first heard the idea of an office with no assigned seating, and lockers for employees to keep personal belongings, I was turned off. But now that the pandemic has forced me to be more adaptable in work arrangement (some days at my un-ergonomically correct desk at home with a pink, fluffy cat bed at my feet; other days in a nearly empty office with proper desk and chair and two large computer monitors), I have changed my mind. My company has adopted a rotation in which three weeks out of the month we are in the office for two days a week and the fourth week we are in for just one day. I never appreciated the advantages of my formal workstation in the office as much as I do now, and I never appreciated the comfort of my own home as much as I do the day after being away from it. The change of pace reminds me of why it feels so good to get up and stretch after sitting in the same position for a long time. Working in more than one place keeps me from feeling hemmed in and stuck.

I’m a late riser, arriving to the office just before 10 a.m. most days, and leaving just after 6 p.m. Others in my office are early risers, some arriving as early as 7:30 a.m. and leaving by 3 p.m. Why not add to the joy of flexible, adaptable spaces, and also create greater comfort by asking employees to choose a schedule that works for them? Social distancing is easier with fewer people in the office at one time. Staggered schedules is an easy way to both make employees happy and keep fewer people in the office at one time. There is no limit to the number of in-office scheduling options you could offer. The earliest could be 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 a.m. and the latest could be 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. Or you could offer even earlier start times and even later end times. There would be enough overlap between the schedules of employees to allow for in-person meetings, but not so much overlap that finding quiet time—even alone time—in the office would be difficult.

One challenge of not having assigned workstations is a need for each employee to clean where he or she has been sitting at the end of each day, and for each to wear a mask or face covering all day. That would be hard for me. Maybe if few enough people were in the office at any one time—so that at times, one employee could have a whole area to themselves—that employee could be free from a face covering for at least part of the day.

We’re in uncomfortable times, with many constrictions and regulations. It’s worth finding ways to ease these binding times for your employees.

Do you have pivot spaces in your office? How do your employees like them? Do they aid employee satisfaction and comfort?

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