Businesses of all kinds — including law firms — are scrambling to reconfigure workspaces to meet COVID-19 guidelines for physical distancing and reduce the chance of infection. While it’s tempting to move quickly to get your firm up and running, beware of moving too fast on temporary fixes. Taking a step back and approaching office renovations holistically will serve your firm better in the future. Here’s how.
Involve Representatives From All Stakeholder Groups
Firm management may have a strong vision for transforming the workspace to improve office health, but other perspectives should be part of the mix.
Request feedback from not just partners and associates, but those in various other roles firmwide. Hearing multiple perspectives may sound like a recipe for chaos, but a good leader, with the help of an objective third party, should know how to draw on everyone’s insights, dig deep to determine specific needs, and develop a game plan that gets everyone on the same page.
Everyone involved will see the project from a different and useful angle:
- While it may not be the only priority, the management team will likely have a keen eye on costs when making renovation decisions.
- The human resources group will focus on employees’ perspectives to encourage talent retention and recruitment and workplace health and safety, as well as what is required by governing authorities.
- If your space is leased, the landlord will have a say regarding any modifications to structural and mechanical systems.
- Consider back-office visitors for activities such as mail service, catering and supply deliveries.
- And don’t forget to consider clients’ needs. The way they use the space — from checking in with reception to occupying a conference room — will drive many decisions about office flow and walking paths.
Even the simplest of changes can go awry if not examined from a variety of angles to see who it might affect and what additional areas of expertise may be required. For example, spreading out desks seems like an easy move — but it may require an electrical engineer to extend power, data and phone lines into new areas. Revamping a large closet to accommodate audiovisual or IT equipment might seem workable. But if the closet doesn’t have access to adequate ventilation, you will need mechanical and electrical engineers.
Consider how other mission-critical spaces might be affected:
- File and records rooms
- Trial preparation and war rooms
- Client conference rooms
Many of these spaces are used by more than one person simultaneously and involve handling shared physical materials. How will they be affected by space constraints, airflow and occupancy limits?
A good project manager should know the relevant trades to engage in design and construction and coordinate all parties from the start. They should also know what activities require permits from the local jurisdiction and can facilitate that process.
Prioritize Employee Well-being in Office Health Redesign
A holistic approach to office design goes beyond architecture. It considers different perspectives on how people use the space, prioritizes health and well-being, and includes options for where and how people want to get work done differently throughout the day.
Numerous studies have shown that healthier, happier employees have fewer health issues, are more productive, and are less likely to leave. Make sure the renovation process meets the diverse perspectives of your employees. An experienced project manager can advise on the best way to schedule remodel work to have the least amount of impact on ongoing operations.
The pandemic and shelter-in-place orders have forced people to adapt to working in new remote environments. Groups of lawyers and staff may come to the office only part time for the foreseeable future, perhaps on staggered schedules, or only for important meetings or trial preparation and document signings. Law firm design or reconfiguration for office health should optimize the space for how people will gather going forward and allow for more meaningful interactions.
Opportunities for Positive Change
The coronavirus has transformed the way we work and it is unlikely that law firms will return completely to the way things were before. Instead of rushing forward, planning for how your firm wants to work in the future will help minimize the cost of interim changes or for short-term adaptations.
In adapting our workspaces for a new reality, we have opportunities to make positive changes. With the power of holistic thinking, we can enhance productivity and employee well-being — for everyone’s health and the health of the bottom line.
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