Although UK office furniture manufacturers have only just unveiled a new suite of “sneeze guards” and social as well as workplace distancing products, demand is already spiralling in the region.
Such is the level of interest that an Inverness-based office furniture specialist has now brought a key member of staff out of furlough to work with local businesses keen to get the right protection in place to allow a progressive and safe reopening.
The benefit for businesses is that these protective guards can easily be retrofitted to existing desks and office layouts, thus reducing costs at a time when companies are closely monitoring expenditure.
Ewen Gallie, a dedicated furniture consultant with Highland Office Equipment (HOE) for the past 20 years, is now fielding more than 20 enquiries per week as interest in these protective guards continues to spike.
He said: “I’ve been in this industry for years and never saw this coming. The manufacturers themselves have only just started making these specific products, and we’re already seeing significant demand across the Highlands.
“Businesses here are being so forward-thinking, which is really to their credit. It means they are showing admirable concern for staff safety and welfare, as well as the kind of practical mindset the Highlands and Islands is renowned for.
“Within three days of being back I’d already been out on various site visits to help businesses measure up while adhering at all times to the strict social distancing rules. These enquiries have ranged from offices for two people to larger open plan offices for more than 200 staff.”
HOE has been established in Inverness for well more than 40 years, serving businesses across the Highlands and Islands region.
Dad-of-two Ewen is one of 30 staff at HOE, based at Harbour Road in Inverness. He was recalled from furlough when Sales Director, Alex Main, working remotely started fielding calls about new clear plastic products, billed as either “sneeze guards” or “barrier guards”. They can be set up on desks, in receptions and communal areas to foster social distancing and reduce viral transmission.
Ewen, 47, who lives in Inverness, said typical desk screens and separators are made from upholstered fabric while the new wipe able, transparent plastic versions are a post-coronavirus innovation.
One of the main suppliers of the protective screens is a company which ceased commercial work while helping create the Government’s temporary Nightingale hospitals. Since completing that project, the supplier has now resumed manufacturing.
Ewen added: “A few weeks ago I didn’t even know these products existed, now I’m becoming an expert in acrylic screens. The reality is that the manufacturers have totally changed in the past month and have really upped their game.
“While nobody could have predicted this situation, it totally makes sense. Companies and their staff want to get back to work and that is almost certainly going to be a phased return while maintaining social distancing and a safe working environment. These will probably be commonplace in offices for the foreseeable future.
“I’m delighted to be able to help businesses prepare responsibly for getting back to work. And I’m also pleased that this is a timely opportunity for our own business.
“A few weeks ago things looked very challenging and I was reading articles about the end of offices as we know them. Now I take the view that wherever people are working they’ll need something to sit on and something to sit at – and they’ll also want to be safe and protected.
“We are also receiving many inquiries from people looking for good quality desking and chairs to help with their new home-working arrangements, rather than coping with cobbled-together ‘workstations’ at dining tables or kitchen worktops.”
Alex Main urged businesses across the Highlands to continue to be proactive – but also to be patient and not to expect instant solutions.
He added: “These are new products and the companies making them are only just resuming their own manufacturing. It’s great that businesses across the Highlands and the north of Scotland are thinking about this already, and advised that it may take weeks to get orders fulfilled and delivered, given the level of demand.
“This is a major change for workplaces, with focus shifting away from separators that create a sense of privacy to a far greater emphasis on health and safety and staff welfare. We’re pleased to be helping businesses plan sensibly for that.
“This affects every sector – every workplace is facing the same need to protects and reassure staff.”
HOE is part of Scotland-wide success story, Capital Document Solutions, a company with five offices across the country, 200 staff and annual revenues of £22m.