After several weeks of Covid-19 shutdown, many businesses are coming out of quarantine and negotiating a plan for getting back to work quickly and safely – without skipping a beat on productivity.

THE NEW SPACE RACE

It’s what we’re calling the rush to critically re-evaluate office terrain. Assessing how environments are currently being used and how might those spaces be re-imagined in this “new normal.”

Just like the original Space Race – it’s a competition to see who can win by being the fastest to firsts in a whole new age. Only this time, it’s about being the first to figure out how to reconfigure the workspace to incorporate physical distancing.

Whenever we are racing to make huge leaps and giant changes to our everyday lives, technology is at the forefront. Good old Technology – the true VIP of social distancing. Video calls, ordering groceries online, ordering everything online, working from home; It’s all made possible by technology. And this huge increase in working-from-home isn’t going away once stay-at-home orders are lifted. In fact, Global Workplace Analytics estimates that 25-30% of the workforce will be working-from-home multiple days a week by end of 2021.

Even with a larger number of employees handling business from home, about 75% of employees will be returning to work in a shared workplace. And, finding a way to bring them back in safely is a huge undertaking. This one can’t be solved with Zoom Meetings and online shopping. For these changes, we must get back to physical space.

Currently, the CDC recommends we give each employee 6 ft. of space and we know that’s the number one factor when it comes to re-configuring the workplace. It’s a game changer. The open office floor plan was designed around the idea of fitting as many people as possible in a collaborative work environment. Now we have to completely flip the switch – without sacrificing the connectedness of the open floor plan we’ve grown to love. And we have to do it fast. Byrne’s own Facility Manager, Dane, is dealing with this challenge right now.

“Real Estate is a hard thing to come by, so maximizing spaces to their full dimensions is critical. Getting more out of our physical space while creating an inviting and safe place to work is the ultimate goal.”

Needless to say, he’s been busy. Hard at work; researching and implementing creative solutions for maximizing space and encouraging safe, social distancing.

We’ve compiled a list of some quick-fix office reconfig ideas that can help you make the most of your space as employees start to return to the work place.

RE-CONFIGURING TIPS FOR SOCIAL DISTANCING IN THE OFFICE


From “we” to “me.” 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Modifying Collaborative Space to work as Dedicated Space
Reclaim work cafés and walk-up meeting areas to create more permanent work spaces. Office design over the last decade has shifted to more common areas – more choice in where you can work. Because of that, these collaborative spaces often have more square footage in the floor plan than designated desking. Think of it as “we” space to compensate for less “me” space. For social  distancing, reclaiming some of this shared space is key.

Divide to unite. 

Adding Space Dividers to Create Physical Barriers
In the short term, we will see space being broken up with temporary dividers and partitions giving workers a sense of privacy and security. They’ll break up ancillary spaces to encourage smaller “huddles.” They’ll be used to promote privacy in an open floor plan. They come in a ton of different shapes, sizes and materials so they’re an excellent way to retrofit an environment.

Online is on target. 

Encourage video conferencing and other collaborative meeting platforms
Keep workers connected and productive – across the building or across the globe. More online meetings & working-from-home. What does that have to do with the physical office space? A lot actually. Remember the whole “dedensifying conference rooms thing” from number three? It means less of us can gather in a room and jump on a call with our work-from-home collaborators. It means we may have to join the virtual meeting from wherever we are. It means offices will need to provide more locations for video calls for smaller groups of people. Less in closed conference rooms and more out in the open.

Don’t be so dense. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rethinking Conference Rooms for a Less Dense “Shared Power” Experience
Currently, the CDC recommends we no longer gather in groups of ten or more. And there’s also the six feet rule that needs to be considered. A conference table that normally sat 8 people comfortable may only really work for 4 now. All of this means those large conference rooms that used to host big cross functional meetings may end up being used as storage for all of the chairs that have been removed from everywhere else.

TAKE IT OUTSIDE.


Capitalize on Outdoor Spaces for Added Real Estate and Healthy Distancing
The trend in working outside is not a new one. Millennials and GenZers have been demanding more outdoor spaces at the office for a while. Coming back to work after social distancing at home for months will surely heighten that demand. Being outdoors encourages physical well-being and mental well-being. And for many people, it’s been a huge factor in “keeping their sanity” during this challenging time.  Obviously working outside all day has its challenges – the weather, ergonomics, and the access to power too. But creating hardworking outdoor spaces for employees coming back to work will be much needed breath of fresh air.

PRODUCTS TO POWER PRODUCTIVITY

As employers quickly improvise facilities and furnishings for returning employees, power may be easy to overlook, but it’s one of the most critical aspects of any successfully re-imagined workplace. We asked Dane (our Facility Manager again), what kind of role power distribution plays in getting spaces ready for back-to-work.

“Having multiple solutions for power has allowed us to reconfigure based on social distancing guidelines, knowing we had products that could support the new floor plan. When you only have to focus on the physical dimensions, knowing power solutions are in your back pocket to solve most issues, it allows you to be creative in problem solving.”

DESKTOP ACCESSORIES
There’s no easier way to turn one wall outlet into a bunch of places to plug in. And, our mounting options make it easy to add power to any table style. Mount it under the table, on the table’s edge, or as a freestanding unit. But just because they were designed for the desk doesn’t mean they’re not powerful in other places too. Remember those divider screens we talked about? You can easily add power to those too.

 

POWER FOR A WHOLE ROOM OF TABLES
Interlink IQ allows you to connect power to up to 8 tables with just one power cord. That’s one outlet – providing power to up to 8 tables. And it can be rearranged whenever and put back together however you want. It’s also great for providing power for a long table so coworkers can spread out at a shared table, without sharing power too.

POWER AWAY FROM THE WALL
Coming up with room for everyone, re-purposing furniture, following new rules and guidelines – it’s a lot. But arranging workstations around access to power outlets doesn’t have to be complicated too. There are plenty of ways to bring power to where you need it – no the other way around.

MORE OUTLETS WHEREVER YOU NEED THEM
If moving desks or seating up against the wall is the best way to give coworkers the distance they need, you may find having a few more outlets   a huge help. With 4-Trac, add up to 13 duplex receptacles without making any cuts in the wall. And there’s no need to involve an electrician either.

SPREAD OUT ACCESS TO POWER 
Distributing power along the perimeter of a conference tables gives users their own access to charging so they aren’t reaching across the table or huddling close to shared outlets. Under-surface mounted power accessories are a great way to save valuable real estate on top of the table too. 2-Trac is a super low-profile DC power solution that easily offers multiple user’s their own place to charge up. Twine is a highly configurable branching cord solution that can definitely provide some distance.

OUTDOOR POWER 
Outdoor Vesta is a completely battery powered charging unit that includes enough USB ports to share with the team. And, with waterproof USB ports, it’s safe to leave outside all day. Rain, snow, or shine – just bring it in to recharge now and then.

THE POWER OF PRIVACY
Creating physical barriers is an excellent way to break up a space and give coworkers some personal space, but they can also break up access to power. So, depending on what the space is being used for, it may be important to take that into consideration. Combining divider screen solutions and power distribution makes  it easy to retrofit privacy anywhere, without skipping a beat when it comes to productivity. Twine + Solo and Fence (coming soon) are great power partners for the privacy panels you’re sure to be using a lot of in the future.

 

 

At Byrne, we’re electrical experts so you don’t have to be. If you have any questions about power as you work through your new office layouts, just give us a call, or send us your new layout. We’re happy to help.

Did you know that there’s a spark every time an electrical outlet connection is made? You may not always see that little flash of light, but it’s there—both when plugging in and pulling a plug out. Creating that spark might catch you by surprise, but it’s totally normal. While most sparks are typically no cause for concern, there are harmful sparks out there too. Here, we’ll explore how to detect those abnormal sparks and the reasons your outlet might be creating them.

SO, WHAT DOES NORMAL LOOK LIKE?

When it comes to electrical, think small and blue. Small sparks are normal, big sparks that leap out of the socket are not. And sparks should be blue—only blue. Yellow, or any other color sparks, should not occur. Normal sparks will come and go very fast. They shouldn’t hang around or take time to fizzle out. Anything that smells like melted plastic or smoke is not okay and deserves a call to the electrician.

I’M SEEING SPARKS. WHAT’S UP?

Like we said, sparks happen all the time, whether you see them or not. But here are some different causes you’ll want to be aware of—and a few that may demand professional attention.

 

RAPID DRAW

This is basically another way of saying that pulling your plug out quickly can cause a brief spark. Electricity runs very hot and very fast along available circuits, and when you withdraw your plug from its socket, you see a little bit of that flow. These sparks are normal—as harmless as a touch of static electricity. And once electrons are freely flowing, there’s no longer a reason for a spark to form.

 

SHORT CIRCUIT

Inside an outlet, you’ll find hot, neutral and ground wires. If wires become loose, those hot wires may come into contact with the neutral or ground ones. When that happens, it creates a short circuit and the extra current can cause excessive heat. If you’re thinking that excessive heat in your outlet is reason for serious concern, you’re right. It can melt the insulation that covers wires and damage internal components. The electricity running through those exposed wires could even result in a fire. If you suspect a short circuit, call a professional electrician.

AGE

Everything gets old, including outlets. Connections may loosen with repeated use and outlets gradually wear out over time. Old, frayed cords can also cause sparking and arcs of electricity from the hot wire to the nearest ground—which may potentially be the person holding the cord. Aging electrical is a very big deal, so be sure to replace any components past their prime, inside or out.

 

NEGLIGENT REPAIRS

Electrical is definitely one area that demands the help of a professional. Don’t ever take short cuts when it comes to electrical repairs, or allow an electrical system to be worked on by an unqualified individual. If the person “fixing” the problem isn’t up to the task, you may be creating more hazards than you started with.

 

IF THERE’S A QUESTION… CALL A PRO.

As mentioned earlier, issues like yellow sparks, sparks lasting longer than it takes to insert a plug, the presence of smoke, or a burning odor are all warning signs. You can’t put a price on safety. Or peace of mind. So, if you have any concerns when it comes to electrical, it’s probably a good idea to simply call in an electrician to evaluate the situation for themselves.  

Keeping up with the different electrical codes across states (and even cities) isn’t easy. And if you’re not an electrical engineer, making sense of what’s actually allowed can get pretty tedious and confusing. So let us break it down simply in this video:

WHAT’S THE CODE IN CHICAGO?

Well, it’s not what it was just a few years ago. Chicago’s electrical codes previously allowed only hardwired power, but things have changed a bit—for the better, we think—and you now have more options.

But because adding power and data units into Chicago spaces is still tricky business, it’s important to remember the following rules:

CHICAGO DOES NOT ALLOW THE USE OF MODULAR POWER SYSTEMS AT ALL

Think cubicles and other panel systems arrangements. When modular systems products are used in any Chicago design, a licensed electrician is required to install hardwire electrical components into each furniture partition channel. Of course, hiring a licensed electrician may mean additional costs, but safety is the driver here. And it’s the law.

UL Listed outlet boxes are available for use in office furnishings that slide onto mounting brackets. But again, these can only be installed by a licensed electrician.

So, how can you move power away from the walls in Chicago? There are a few ways, actually…

CORDED AND DAISY CHAIN-STYLE UNITS MAY NOW BE USED ON FREESTANDING FURNISHINGS

If the tables in your room layout are height adjustable—with a hand crank, for example—then you may use a corded Furniture Power Distribution Unit or FPDU. (Specifically UL962A.) Actually, they’re allowed on any listed freestanding furnishings that can be repositioned by users—such as training tables, wheeled carts, etc. The maximum cord length on a FPDU is 9 feet, and you must have a circuit breaker when using 4 or more simplexes.

Corded accessories also include Interlink and IQ power centers, as shown below. They’re a great way to power multiple workstations away from a wall and stay compliant in Chicago.

FPDU’s actually allow up to (8) 15 AMP simplexes—and as many charging USB’s as you’d like. But again, don’t forget the circuit breakers.

ALL OTHER POWER AND DATA ACCESSORIES MUST BE HARDWIRED

In all other instances of room design and planning—beyond the freestanding furnishings mentioned above—power and data accessories must be hardwired.

WHY DOES THE ELECTRICAL CODE MATTER TO DESIGNERS AND MARKETERS?

Electrical codes aren’t simply important to engineers, architects, and interior designers. These professions may be the most affected because of the impact on room layout and design, but fields like marketing should also be in on the rules.

Consider, for example, that you’re running an ad campaign targeting Chicago interior designers for a new product launch. It’s crucial that any marketing collateral, as it relates to power, is both accurate and helpful.

In general, understanding electrical codes in the city of Chicago is a key part of delivering comprehensive work space solutions there. And in a time when customers can choose from furniture suppliers around the globe, this knowledge will help set you apart as a stronger resource.

San Francisco Electrical Codes, as you can expect, follow the California Title 24 rule as well. By following California’s electrical codes, San Francisco in turn follows the NEC.

There is one major difference in the city’s electrical codes from the state level.

As stated in Article 356 of the San Francisco Electrical Codes, “LFNC [Liquid Flexible Nonmetallic Conduit] shall be permitted to be used in exposed or concealed locations for systems not exceeding 50 volts.” In simpler terms, this means that the power infeed to a modular power distribution system must be inside metallic sealtite.

While that is limiting in some respects, the up side is that it’s the only unusual requirement.

In San Francisco, corded power and data units are acceptable to be plugged into a modular power distribution system, as long as the power infeed to the modular power distribution system is metallic sealtite. This allows for easier design and construction of modular furniture and systems with electrical capabilities.

Corded units also add the benefit of being easily transported. For example, in situations such as classrooms where furniture may be moved from year to year (or even on a class-dependent basis), it’s far easier to unplug and rearrange furniture as necessary. Your only limitation is the length of the cord rather than the original construction of the room and outlet dependency.

This also makes open workspaces much easier to design and plan around. As an office grows and new workstations are added, it’s simpler to add corded power and data accessories rather than to plan around hardwiring layouts.

Largely because they’re easier to design and configure spaces around, corded power and data accessories are also far simpler to find. So, not only are they easier to use in design, but they are also easier to find in your exact preference.

In San Francisco, the sky’s the limit… As long as you’re following all other California Electrical Codes, including the lighting and receptacle codes as detailed in this blog.

Lighting accounts for roughly 18% of energy consumption in non-residential buildings across the country. Following heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems, this is the second-highest contender in energy use in commercial buildings.

In states like California with dense populations and concentrated commercial and industrial areas, that number reaches roughly 30% – which is staggering. (Reading that makes me feel like the old man yelling at kids to get off his lawn, only I’m yelling to turn off your lights.) But the reason isn’t entirely due to population: it is also because California is more temperate so citizens don’t use as much energy on HVAC.

When tasked with discovering a solution in California, rather than compromising the power or quality of lighting, the state decided to implement and enforce Title 24 Part 6 in its California Code of Regulations in 1978.

In an effort to reduce energy use across the state, these continually updated standards became known as the Building Energy Efficiency Standards. Title 24 Part 6, specifically, contained all of the codes which addressed improving energy efficiency in lighting systems and HVAC systems.

These standards, updated on a 3-year cycle, effectively ushered in a new era of lighting in California non-residential buildings. As of January 1, 2017, California enforced the 2016 sustainability standards.

DISSECTING CALIFORNIA TITLE 24 PART 6

Put simply, Title 24 Part 6 requires that all lighting systems and HVAC systems in non-residential buildings (with limited exceptions) require switching or control capabilities to turn off when unoccupied. This is accomplished by either an occupancy sensor or a scheduled controller with an override capability

The same is true for electrical outlets.

The focus of Title 24 Part 6 is to reduce energy usage by limiting HVAC usage, light usage, and other device usages when space is not occupied.

And if you’re reading this and telling yourself that this doesn’t affect you, here’s why you’re wrong.

HOW DOES TITLE 24 PART 6 AFFECT INTERIOR DESIGNER AND FURNITURE MANUFACTURING?

When designing spaces, whether conference rooms, office spaces, university lecture halls, hotel rooms, or any other space designed around humans, lighting plays an imperative role. You could be designing for a romantic mood, a state of flow for focused work, or any other tone – but you define that tone with lighting.

So what does Title 24 Part 6 have to do with your designs and spaces?

 

Office Settings:

A controlled outlet must be located within 6 ft of any uncontrolled outlets.

 

Hospitality Guest Rooms:

A minimum of half of the outlets in each hotel or motel guest room must be a controlled receptacle.

 

Open Office Spaces:

A controlled outlet is required in each workstation in addition to the rules for Office Settings.

 

Exceptions:

Only clocks installed higher than 6 ft, IT equipment such as printers, and refrigerator or water dispenser outlets do not require controlled circuits in non-residential buildings.

Even as a non-designer or non-engineer working for a design-related company, it is crucial to understand California Title 24 Part 6. Knowing your audience when planning upcoming product launches, marketing material, website content, and product innovation requires that you not only speak the language but that you understand the language. So immerse yourself.

And it’s worth mentioning that California is just the beginning. While these rules may seem remote to you as a designer in Massachusetts, Michigan, or Florida, your state could be next.