The way offices are designed, furnished and used is set to change in the wake of the Covid pandemic. How can a full furniture audit give you the insights you need to plan and execute these changes more effectively?
All change for the office?
Depending on your point of view, the Covid crisis has either caused a revolution in the workplace or simply accelerated existing trends towards more flexible and virtual working.
Whatever the truth, right now every company is being forced to think urgently about how shared, physical workspaces are going to function in the future.
Across the world radical office remodelling efforts and whole new approaches to facility management are underway:
- Major real estate deals are being cancelled or put on hold.
- Some organisations are downsizing, or planning to relocate from larger metropolitan HQs to smaller, regional, satellite offices
- Others are redesigning their office space to support a ‘virtual first’ or more flexible working strategy
- Some businesses are giving up their office space altogether
For many companies, talk of the death of the office as a full time working location is premature.
For others, the pressures from newly empowered workers to facilitate more permanent, flexible working options in the post-Covid future is proving too strong to resist.
Most future working scenarios will require some form of change to offices and the assets within them - but some will require a more radical overhaul to deliver on your ambitions.
Why you need an audit.
Understanding what's possible with your furniture is key to understanding and unleashing the potential in your two biggest assets:
- your people
- your real estate
If your business is still waiting to make long term decisions or have already decided on a strategy going forward, you’re going to need to audit your assets and begin to assess how they can be best deployed to help transform your business.
There may be more life and potential in your existing assets than you thought, or there could be alternative options for recycling or disposal that you haven’t yet considered and can drive real value for your company.
What does a digital audit entail?
A full furniture audit should
- Photograph and digitally catalogue all your physical assets
- Label them with unique barcodes for future reference
- Assess them for condition, re-leasing and repurposing potential
This auditing process will give you the insight you need to deal with any of these possible, future workplace scenarios:
1. Re-purposing for collaboration
Some businesses like Dropbox have decided to move to a ‘virtual first’ model in the post-Pandemic world. They are re-imagining their offices as collaborative hubs, rather than destinations for daily, desk based work.
This report on CNN describes how this will impact on the design and contents of their shared workspaces:
“Currently, our office spaces are a mix of individual desks and meeting rooms and collaboration spaces. We have rooms that are entirely floor-to-ceiling white boards, large conference rooms and small conference rooms and sort of a mix. And so, if you can picture the future, no more individual desks at all. Think of it is an entire space with multiple collaboration spaces in it.”
If you’re going down this route or are imagining a hybrid approach where people will work more flexiblity over all - you are going to need furniture solutions that fit those requirements.
An audit will show you which of your existing assets could be repurposed and modified to meet the furniture requirements of this 'new normal' - including
- Removing beams/altering leg frames to turn desks into collaboration tables
- Cutting new access points for cables to facilitate changing digital set-ups
- Adding casters to desks, screens and storage units to rapidly change working set ups
- Creating removable desk tops and other features for more agile office configuration
- Respraying and reupholstering to prepare assets to be used in different settings
Those businesses who anticipate shifting back to more traditional office-based activity, will need to look at reconfiguring their workspaces to be Covid safe. How can existing furniture and assets be rearranged to ensure that employees can socially distance and that your current layout still works? What further investments might you need to make to ensure your environments are as safe as possible?
Steelcase point out that to make Workplaces' Covid secure, we need to think about the three dimensions of safety:
Density - how can your existing assets be remodelled and modified to create a safe distance between occupants - e.g. do benches and desks need to be lengthened or subdivided?
Division - can existing screens be reused to create divisions, or will new perspex shields need to be added to allow people to work safely at their desks?
Geometry - How can the layout of the office be changed to enable better and safer flow through the building?
A furniture audit can help you work out where your current asset stock can be deployed to answer these needs and where you may need new equipment (such as screens, sanitising stations etc) to meet new regulatory demands.
3. Removal & relocation
We are seeing some businesses downsize their commitment to office space, or just spread themselves differently across various locations. This study in the HBR predicts the future relocation of organisations to numerous satellite offices, supported by a central HQ for larger gatherings. In this ‘Hub and spoke’ model, regional offices are
“located in a variety of spaces and designed at various scales making up a larger, more flexible corporate ecosystem.”
Working out how much of your existing furniture and other assets could be redeployed to make such spaces ready for use, should be all part of an audit’s scope. Figuring what needs to be removed, stored or disposed of - and how much this will cost - will also be vital to a smooth relocation operation.
4. Re-use and recycling
A complete audit could help you recognise and release the residual value in your surplus furniture assets. While some assets such as desks and tables have no great resale or re-lease value in the current market, many types of task chairs are in demand.
Then, there’s your recycling options - how can you contribute to the circular economy and meet regulatory requirements for responsible disposal of unwanted assets?
Furniture audits can help you identify materials found in your used furniture that can be reclaimed and made into something new, then determine the feasibility and value for you in undertaking the work.
Alternatively, businesses should consider what could be donated to charity to fulfil community commitments.
Audit for an uncertain future
A full furniture audit will give you details of the brands, condition and composition of all the assets in your possession. in an easy to access digital format.
In the current climate of change and uncertainty, getting a clear handle on exactly what can be redeployed, repurposed or re-used will help you stay one step ahead.