Apr 17, 2020

A COVID-19 Hierarchy of Needs

Christopher Good, CID, NCIDQ, LEED AP
Creative Director

As we navigate this time of uncertainty, the individual members of our organizations and communities will be looking for guidance and direction on how to return to a connected and social life. For many, their workplaces will serve as the guidepost for expectations, in both the near and long term, for the new rules of social closeness.

Borrowing from Abraham Maslow’s research, this outline presents a hierarchical guide we developed to prepare organizations to reopen their doors and address the concerns, needs, and hopes for their employees in a post COVID-19 work environment.

Health and Wellness:

The main purpose for the built environment is to serve the people who live, work, learn, and heal within it. If we cannot keep people healthy within our workspaces - then our buildings, facilities, and cities have failed their primary purpose. We must make certain that our workplaces respond to the physiological and psychological needs of our teams to keep them healthy.

Develop space usage guidelines.

Establish a key set of principles to shape how employees will utilize the workspace upon their return as well as improve their remote work experiences.

Get expert advice.

Refer to evolving guidelines from the CDC and OSHA to inform your policies and response.

Establish social distancing practices.

In the near-term, maintaining a safe distance between employees will be a critical factor in any return to work plan.

o Increase use of remote or distributed work

o Employ shift or block scheduling to reduce occupancy

o Temporary removal of seating in café’s and conference rooms to avoid large gatherings

o Temporary removal of seating at high density workstations to avoid encroaching on a 6 foot (2 meter) social distancing zone

Establish environmental health practices.

Like people, our physical spaces can fall ill. Sick spaces lead to sick people. Ensure our physical environments support our health and prevent illness.

o Provide sanitation stations at all shared work areas or desks

o Increase ventilation rates, humidity levels, filtering, and the percentage of outdoor air circulation

o Provide extended walk-off areas or provide booties to avoid contamination

Consider expanded wellness programs.

The collision of our total wellbeing and our work has never been more pronounced. Workplaces will need to find ways to ensure that our people are well wherever they are at home and at the office.

o On-site or virtual access to licensed healthcare and mental health professionals

o On-site wellness room

o Provide “work from home” guides and resources to ensure ergonomic working environments at home.

Safety and Security:

When our teams are struggling with fear and uncertainty their psychological state suffers -resulting in poor health, poor performance, and increased risk for illness. At times like this messaging matters. People want to know that their organizations are actively thinking about and designing a clear path forward. A path that keeps them safe, productive, and connected. The knowledge that their organizations are working on solutions may be equally as important as knowing what those solutions are.

Establish a regular cadence of communications.

Share updates across multiple formats to inform your team of actions and responses to prepare their workplace for the return to work.

Engage key stakeholders.

Connect a wide array of departments and business units in response teams or task force groups.

Host workshops.

Gather ideas, solicit feedback, and create empathic solutions unique to your organization’s culture and requirements.

Reduce transmission.

Help employees remain healthy.

o Ensure sick employees remain home

o Provide sanitization stations at entries and sanitation caddies at workstation areas

o Provide messaging to remind employees of hygiene and cleanliness protocols

o Consider technology tools such as infrared temperature or mobile device tracking

o Utilize workplace sensors to identify high use spaces for daily deep cleaning

o Expand cleaning routines to include daily disinfection of high-touch surfaces and tools; i.e. displays, touch devices, whiteboard markers, etc.

Address workplace materiality.

Take advantage of antimicrobial and self-cleaning surfaces and textiles. Take care to consider the sustainability, ease of maintenance, and anti-biological/viral properties of these materials.

Social Belonging and Connectedness:

The most important thing a workspace can do is provide a safe and healthy place for people to come together, connect, and share a community. Our collective mission in this crisis is to create workplaces that are healthy, safe, productive and most of all, foster an intimate sense of human connection. Solving for this will require us to promote our propinquity. Embracing our natural tendency to develop deep human relationships. To take advantage of our proximity to each other (from safe social distances), to create opportunities to increase the frequency and quality of our interactions, and to celebrate both the affinities and differences that exist between our team members.

Make the most of virtual experiences.

Simple steps like always showing your video are a given, but consider other collaboration tools such as online whiteboards, or even video games.

Bring the employee experience to them.

Having healthy snack boxes, coffee subscriptions or cheese selections delivered to the homes of your employees lets your team know they are still cared for and can enhance virtual meet-ups or happy hours.

Don’t forget reward and recognition.

Consider experience programs that can help your team soften the loneliness and isolation of quarantine and shelter in place orders.

Create affinity teams.

Celebrate shared affinities for things non-work related with shared Spotify playlists, book or Netflix clubs, or by working out together from home with group exercise apps or classes over zoom. Help your team make time to bond over their shared interests.

Rethink your workplace.

Celebrate the reason your workspace exists by adopting flexible work modes that balance the ability to work from anywhere with purposefully designed physical workplaces. Places that create the best place possible to perform various work tasks.

Confidence and Contribution:

The only way to fully overcome uncertainty is to gain confidence and trust in ourselves and the institutions around us. Confidence will come with time and It will require smart and well communicated ideas, actions, and programs to minimize the threat of COVID-19. With confidence in our environment to keep us healthy, and to support us and our abilities, our own individual contributions will begin to feel meaningful and impactful again. Our collective self-esteem as organizations and as a society will reinforce our behaviors and improve our work.

Align with your purpose.

Belief in your organization’s vision, mission and values are more important now than ever before. Even once the risks of the coronavirus have been abated, people will be hesitant to return to the office. A burning sense of purpose in our work will help drive the new behaviors that will bring us together.

Share your successes.

Each success in readying ourselves to return to work can serve as the kinetic energy propelling our people and our teams forward. Confidence can also be contagious, and we have to make sure we are spreading it wherever possible.

Take personal responsibility.

Each of us will now be asked to take greater personal responsibility for the care and safety of others. Doing our part will require practicing social distancing norms, adhering to new policies and best practices, and making important and difficult choices. Leaving a space clean and sanitary will become an individual duty, not just one that falls solely to our facilities teams

Inspiration and Transformation:

This moment of disruption has changed all of the rules. This includes many of the logistical, bureaucratic, or dogmatic obstacles that have stood in the way of movements such as remote work, telemedicine, distance learning, and many other transformative changes. This is a moment for self-actualization and the realization of the full potential for each of us as individuals, organizations, and entire industries. This is an opportunity for massive positive change, so long as we are willing to contribute our inspiring ideas and hard work to making it happen.

Create, Inspire, and Transform.

See your organization and your industry from an entirely new light. Use this as an opportunity to re-think and change everything. Create new ideas, inspire your people, transform your organization.

Remember what brought you here.

Give thanks and share gratitude for the people in your organization helping to shape your response as well as to those who are in your care. Their faith in your team is what will not only allow you to get through this - but will help you come out better on the other side.

Identify what will take you there.

This may be our chance to hit the reset button. Don’t miss this opportunity. Reach out and learn from others, share stories, gather ideas, and spend time thinking about how your space and your business can adapt and change for the better.

Promoting our Human Connection:

Addressing each aspect of the COVID-19 Crisis as it relates to our human and organizational needs is only a start to addressing this challenge. This will require deep thought, hard work, and unique perspectives for each any every community and organization. There is no single solution that can be applied everywhere and each of our responses will likely vary. One thing that can be certain is that the only way through this is to lead with an open mind and a belief that our charge is to ensure that our workplaces are safe, healthy, and most importantly, promote our human connections.