The COVID-19 pandemic has changed life as we know it. After nearly a year, many employers are beginning to have conversations about what life will look like post COVID-19. The thought of resuming activities that were once considered normal, like working in an open office environment, now sparks feelings of anxiety in many people. With a heightened consciousness for wellness, employers and building owners are wondering what design adjustments to make to office spaces as we anticipate return to work.
The New In-Office Normal
The idea of wellness in architecture pertains to the health of the physical environment, as well as the psychological environment. Architects have always taken this into consideration. But designing for wellness is no longer a “best practice,” it’s an obligation to keep building occupants safe.
By now, we can infer that the change to workplace operations could be long-lasting. Remote work may continue to be encouraged, and employers may integrate staff in phases giving employees greater flexibility with in-office hours. These shifts, among many others, will change space usage in the workplace.
Initially, the office space will very likely be reflective of the caution for cleanliness and social distancing measures. Spaces designed for congregating and collaboration could temporarily go unused or may not be used as initially designed. For example, large meeting rooms may be used for small, social distanced gatherings, and common spaces like cafes and breakrooms could have restricted or prohibited use. As space adjustments occur, building signage can be used to reinforce updates like traffic patterns, space restrictions, etc.
Employers and building owners will encourage occupants to increase their social responsibility. Rather than solely relying on a cleaning service, as many people have done in the past, employees will be encouraged to wipe down surfaces that they touch more frequently and those in common spaces. This may even affect meeting schedules by adding in buffer time to allow for cleaning and air circulation.
Flexibility is Key
Before the pandemic, many employers were moving toward the idea of less personal space in the office. In some cases, this meant significantly reducing cubicle sizes, hoteling /shared desks, or even doing away with personal desks completely. While this might not be feasible for reentry immediately, this method is conducive to long-term office hour shifts like the A-B method, where employees are divided into groups who have alternating in-office days.
With the A-B method becoming standard for many, in-office time may shift to be dedicated to collaboration, which would be reflected in the space set-up. In post-pandemic offices, we may see more open spaces and less personal space. Open seating areas with buffer zones that allow for social distancing may be ideal for employees to exchange ideas face to face. If desk space is limited, lockers or cubbies to store personal belongings may be necessary. For more formal meetings, conference rooms will need to be better equipped with technology that allows for in-person attendees to communicate with virtual attendees. Employers may also put greater emphasis on use of outdoor spaces and encourage walking meetings.
By outfitting office spaces with modular, flexible and easy to clean furniture, employees will be able to reconfigure work areas for collaborative needs, safety and comfort. For instance, demountable partitions can create temporary full-height or partial-height barriers that are non-load bearing. These partitions can be readily disassembled and converted for other locations. Additionally, bleach-cleanable fabrics and antimicrobial textiles offer a durable option for those high-touch, multipurpose furniture pieces without sacrificing aesthetic. Whether designing for the broader aspect of space division, or detailed individual surfaces, there are many design solutions for the post-COVID workplace that can be efficient long-term investments.
Calling on the Experts
COVID-19 is forcing architects to rethink how we will design our spaces. Approaching such significant changes can be a daunting task, especially considering the impacts on wellness and maintaining employee collaboration. B&N’s architects and interior designers are experienced in creating flexible/module designs to meet today’s new work environments. Contact Amanda Vieu to discuss how to readjust or prepare your office space to design with wellness in mind.