HOUSTON - After almost a year and a half of Covid, many employers are anxious to get workers back into the office. The target date for reopening the office, for a lot of employers who have people working from home, is right after Labor Day.
A recent CNBC survey found just over 75% of executives are bringing people back full or part-time, to a workplace that will likely be very different.
ARM Energy in Northwest Houston is one of those places. The midstream oil and gas services company is finally back to full-strength, and in it's office, after surviving the remote work-from-home experience.
"For us, it was a huge blow to not have everybody in the office at the same time," says ARM Energy executive assistant Kristyn Todd.
Last March, the company was already planning a major renovation, but Covid added a new complication, faced by many employers, that will change how people interact in the office. Returning workers will be spaced farther apart, traffic-flow will change, and new technology will help reduce exposure.
Houston firm, Powers Brown Architecture, is offering clients a plan to help with the journey, born of things learned during the pandemic and healthcare-design experience, now applied to corporate America.
"I like that clients are aware now and they're thinking through that," says architect Lauren Amber, "When we're making some of these recommendations that may be a little bit more expensive than a basic tenant build-out, they understand why we're recommending it, and they've seen it first-hand."
At ARM Energy, visitors are bathed in an invisible pool of ultraviolet light, and temperature-scanned before going further; Deliveries, that once went to the receptionist, now go to a separate holding room that also disinfects packages; Hard surfaces, conducive to cleaning, are widely used.
All of it, wherever possible, integrated into the design so that 'safety' seems a natural extension of everyday business.
"Obviously, Covid threw some kinks into our plans," says Todd, "We (asked) 'What can we do to make this office safer? What can we do to modify these plans to make is a more Covid-friendly office?'"
Such Covid considerations do come at a price. Safety modifications for the ARM Energy project added a couple hundred thousand dollars to the bill. Employers, though, may find it's part of the cost of bringing people back into the office.