Creating safe office spaces for a new hybrid working model

Global data shows 72 percent of us want to return to the office, for at least some of the working week. That figure may well be higher in countries like Mozambique where domestic internet connections are weak. Sany Weng, MD of our serviced offices company in Maputo, shares how she’s creating safe spaces to help clients return to work.

A second wave of COVID has hit with vengeance here in Mozambique, as in many countries across the region. Hospitals are full, daily cases have increased as much as ten fold in January, compared to December. There are fears that the new, more infectious, South Africa variant could have crossed borders, just as people relaxed over Christmas.

Mozambique Serviced Office

Here in the capital Maputo, where the vast majority of active cases are concentrated, we are on especially high alert. But many of us are also despairing at the thought of another year working from home.

CONNECTION is the big challenge. Physical – domestic internet service is poor in Mozambique and emotional – close proximity to loved ones at home can strain relationships, while distance from colleagues can damage teamwork and make it slower to get things done. As one client who returned recently to our offices told me “The absence of screaming children makes life so much easier…and the coffee is great!”

Data from a recent global survey by Slack of 9000 knowledge workers showed, the majority of us (72 percent) want a combination of office and home working beyond the pandemic. As Stewart Butterfield, CEO and co-founder of Slack told the BBC: “if we can move past decades of orthodoxy about 9-to-5, office-centric work, there’s an opportunity to retain the best parts of office culture while freeing ourselves from bad habits and inefficient processes.”

Mozambique Serviced Office

So that our clients can pursue this hybrid way of working – and make a full-time return to the office for those who want that – our priority is to create safe working spaces with new arrangements that significantly minimise the risk of transmission and infection.

1. Shift working/ split teams.

Teams work on a week-on/ week-off basis to halve the number of people in the office at any one time. This also allows us to perform a deep clean when shifts change over. “Bubbling” in this way also reduces the number of people who will have to quarantine, should anyone test positive.

2. Larger office spaces.

Moving to a space with double the capacity is an obvious, albeit more expensive, way to help maintain social distance, especially for teams whose work requires them to be present in the office. Some of our clients have combined this with shift working to further reduce the risk of infection.

We’ve also adopted the roster of health and safety precautions that have become common place around the world – one way flow systems to avoid people crossing in the corridor. An additional entry point to prevent congestion in the reception area. Strict cleaning of all communal spaces, including the restrooms, door handles and buttons on the coffee machine.

In a hot climate like ours staying hydrated is a constant battle so we’ve given our tenants individual water hugs to reduce trips to the water cooler. Chairs in conference rooms are at social distance and each place is set with hand sanitiser and a paper mat, which is disposed of (and recycled) after each meeting, before the room is thoroughly cleaned.

A major theme of 2020 was the forced boom in flexible, remote working. There’s no denying working from home has considerable benefits but for many of us it’s lonely and boring – or not lonely and boring enough in the case of parents! So a major theme of 2021 will be figuring out smart working practices to help us all stay safe in what we all hope will be the last few months of the pandemic battle.

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