By Holly Whisler

“It has to be rough to be in the office furniture business right now,” is a comment often heard by Chris Davis, vice president of operations and account manager at Resource One Interior Solutions & Design, 321 E. Adams St., since COVID-19 forced many people to work from home. However, “Our market is more than just office furniture. We do space planning, and we’re equipment experts,” he explained. “Resource One finds solutions to fit the needs of a wide variety of clients from education to health care, hospitality and a multitude of corporate environments.”

Davis said that he noticed many organizations, both locally and globally, “hit pause and put projects on the shelf” when the pandemic began a year ago. On the other hand, some companies took advantage of the downtime to put plans in place for when the workforce was able to resume daily operations.

Diane Beauchamp, co-owner and dealer principal of Wiley Interiors, 301 E. Laurel St., said, “It has been an interesting year. Last year people kept preparing to go back to work, but didn’t, and now we’re doing it again,” as most businesses return to the office. She commented, “Employers realize the value of their employees more than ever. They are doing what is necessary to make sure employees feel safe and cared for. They want to retain quality talent.”

Beauchamp said her client requests have ranged from wanting her input on whether they have enough space to allow for proper social distancing to whether plexiglass partitions are needed and how to best manage the flow of traffic.

Beauchamp also said some clients have used this time to completely redo offices, replacing old furniture with new, and optimizing space for fewer employees. Larger companies have added cafes so staff can eat in the safety of their building, further reducing exposure to other public spaces.

Davis said he has noticed the trend toward “we” spaces versus “me” spaces, which differentiates space for in-person collaboration from individual office space. Collaboration has been made more difficult by the pandemic, due to limits on in-person contact. Therefore, organizations can often benefit from the expertise of space planners and designers to assist with intentionally planning flexible workspace, taking into consideration COVID safety protocols, employee well-being and the necessity of collaborating in person. Beauchamp added that she has designed smaller conference spaces to accommodate two people and a large video screen to enhance the collaboration experience.

As organizations prepare to repopulate their buildings with staff, many have acknowledged the serendipitous finding that working remotely, at least part of the time, can boost employee productivity and job satisfaction. However, in-person collaboration is still crucial, and it is that part of the work environment people crave the most when they go remote.

Davis explained, “What we’re seeing and what research shows is that a hybrid model is the way forward. Productivity is at its best in a hybrid model, whether it is three days home and two days in the office, or other way around. But 100% of either and productivity decreases.” According to Davis, the hybrid model is based on the premise that people will collaborate, or do the “we” work, when they are in-person and do their “me” work that requires concentration at home where distractions are minimal.

Beauchamp commented, “We are also assisting clients with writing protocols regarding when staff should remain in the office or work from home,” as the hybrid approach to work is here to stay.

Implementing a hybrid model requires not only well-thought-out workspace, but also technology that is robust enough to handle the workload of a dynamic staff. Pat Gilley, vice president of Watts Copy Systems, 2860 Stanton Ave., said they are seeing an accelerated trend in businesses adopting cloud-based solutions and applications that allow for document collaboration. He said, “It is essential for staff to have quick access to documents in order to keep the work flowing,” regardless of whether the documents are created at home, stored in the cloud and retrieved at the office, or the other way around. He emphasized that this is something a multifunctional printer can facilitate, “all while maintaining the security standards that businesses need in today’s challenging environment.”

COVID-19 has caused a dramatic change in the way we work. One year ago, working from home was considered a temporary situation, now it is part of a greater paradigm shift.

“We are improving lives by design. We think what we do is that important,” said Davis. “People spend more time working than they sometimes do sleeping, and if we can make an improvement in their lives, we have completed our mission.”

Holly Whisler is a freelance writer from Springfield who was already working from home before the pandemic.