July 15, 2020 - Most of us are not accustomed to living with the level of uncertainty we are experiencing now due to COVID-19. What will school look like in the fall? Should we visit our family members? Is it safe to return to work? The unknown can fatigue us, whether we are worrying about the future or incessantly planning for it. In times of uncertainty and change, it is a comfort to remember that God is constant and unchanging. He is our strength and peace.

At HighGround, we want our work in support of your mission to give you peace of mind, as well. One thing you can know for certain: we are continually looking for opportunities to help you achieve your financial goals. As part of our regular due diligence and given the rise in stress on our economy caused by COVID-19, HighGround has been working to create efficiencies and reduce cost. We recently reviewed the fees of our investment service providers and were able to secure fee concessions from several of our investment managers. We continue to be confident that our investment managers' fees are highly competitive and, in some cases, more competitive than the market.
Fast Facts:

  • A full economic recovery will depend on sustained progress in the fight against COVID-19, continued Fed monetary policy support and additional congressional fiscal stimulus.
  • Investor sentiment remains cautiously optimistic as equity markets approach historic highs even while COVID-19 infection rates rapidly increase and states, such as California, roll back reopening measures.
  • On Tuesday, the Labor Department announced that the consumer price index (CPI), which measures what Americans pay for everything from clothing to appliances, rose 0.6% last month on a seasonally adjusted basis. In comparison, May prices declined 0.1%.

What’s Next?
The Potential Effects of COVID-19 on Nonprofits

In the first edition of this 2-part series, we highlighted how the CARES Act could impact individual annual giving to nonprofits (read more here). This week we consider the future of physical workspaces by sharing our interview with Interior Architect’s (IA) Managing Director Frances Bruns. 

What should organizations be doing in the near term to make employees feel comfortable and safe as they return to the office?
Your employees first and foremost want to know that they will be safe in returning to the office – provide clear protocols so they understand what will be done to keep them safe, how to use the new environment, and what will/will not be allowed. These protocols may include new cleaning practices, guidelines for interaction with colleagues, information on team schedules, instructions on how to use shared spaces like cafes and conferencing spaces, directions on the path of travel and circulation, and signage to reinforce expected behaviors. Communication, as always, is still the key! Consider Town Halls and/or web pages to share information early and often.

How can nonprofits cost-effectively retrofit their current workplace to accommodate new safety guidelines?
The easiest way to retrofit without spending lots of money is by using what you already have to create a safe environment for your team. Take a look at your existing workplace configuration and overlay your preferred physical distancing protocols as a start – be sure to leave plenty of room for circulation behind workstations and in major pathways. This solution does not require any additional purchases as long as the distances are maintained.

What social distancing protocols do you recommend or have you seen in action?
For physical distancing, we have seen everything from 6' to 15' separation requirements for this first phase of returning to work. Many companies are removing chairs at workstations and in collaborative spaces/rooms to provide visual cues to their employees about places they are allowed to occupy (heads up that you will need to find a place to store these chairs, preferably on the same floor to avoid warehousing costs). When possible, open plan work areas are also being reconfigured and/or supplemented with additional furniture products (e.g. reorienting worksurfaces, adding desk screens) to allow for more generous spacing between employees. Defining one-way circulation on tight corridors has also been incorporated into many projects, as has protocol signage to help employees circulate the space and cue properly.

If the workplace does indeed shift to be more accommodating of partial work from home, do you think employers may eventually reduce their total office square footage to save cost?
Reduction in office footprints is definitely a consideration, as is repurposing existing real estate to better accommodate teams and individuals when they come into the office. Continuing to build and grow culture will be challenging from afar – trust and relationships are best built in person. Ask yourself – what can we provide for our employees here at the office that they do not have at home? Idea starters:  special technology; quiet zones away from family distractions; areas for entertaining and celebration; spaces to connect with teams and ideate; places for coaching and mentoring. Every company will have different needs based on your unique business and culture.

Do you foresee a move away from everyone having their own dedicated space at work toward, instead, shared/generic desk spaces?
Yes – many companies are looking at new workplace strategies that incorporate some level of work-from-home and some additional level desk sharing (often referred to as hot desking). Sharing spaces in the shadow of COVID-19 isn’t easy unless there are strict cleaning protocols in place. Many organizations are requiring clean desk policies (for easier cleaning) and increasing operational budgets to increase the frequency and intensity of cleaning, especially in shared environments. They are also asking employees to bring equipment to/from the office with them so the high-touch equipment is not shared (e.g. laptops, keyboards, mice).

How can employees stay connected while also feeling safe and protected when returning to the office? In other words, what does safe in-person collaboration look like in light of COVID-19?
Well, that’s the million-dollar question, for sure! Collaboration will look different for every organization – last week, I had a Skype call to review a design presentation with an employee that was sitting about 15 feet away from me so we could maintain a safe physical distance from each other. For many clients, we are reevaluating collaborative spaces to reduce the number of people allowed and looking at technology-based collaborative tools to bring everyone together and allow for information sharing.

Societal norms such as handshakes have shifted. Do you think any architectural design elements will shift, such as open floor plans?
I do! They are already shifting as we speak. More touchless technology is being incorporated throughout the workspace, circulation paths are being widened to allow for greater physical distancing and passing lanes, and open plan work areas are becoming less dense and more flexible to allow for increasing/decreasing density over time (just to name a few).

What services is IA providing during this time to help facilitate a safe return to the office?
We have been very blessed to have been able to pivot our service offerings to help our clients with these unusual needs through our revived workplace portfolio. These services include:

  • Workplace Readiness Assessments
  • Existing Floorplan and Occupancy Reviews
  • Gap Analysis
  • Action Planning and Comprehensive Reporting
  • Occupancy Planning and Furniture Recommendations
  • Protocol Signage and Turnkey Graphics Solutions
  • Change Management Consulting

Click here for more information on IA's services and insights.

We would love your feedback. Are there any industry topics that you would like to learn more about? Please email with your suggestions.