• HuntonBrady Architects

The Post Covid-19 Office Workplace

Co-Authors: Danny Gordon, AIA, LEED AP, Principal; Shanna Hanson, NCIDQ, IIDA, Director of Corporate Interior Design

The post COVID-19 pandemic workplace will have a significant impact on how we approach office design. We see this impact occurring in a series of thoughtfully executed, highly customized design stages. We believe these stages will be based not only on the client’s individual needs, but also on the ability of the design and construction industry to respond to changes in workplace risk assessment and habits. The stages include:


Initial Return to Office: limited effect on the built environment, focus on CDC recommended guideline modifications to office policies and procedures. Short Term Renovations of Existing Office Spaces: includes the renovation and modification of existing spaces to accommodate short-term post COVID-19 workplace practices. Long Term Paradigm Shift in Workplace Design Practices: planning of newly designed spaces that reflect the long term impact of COVID-19 in the workplace.


INITIAL RETURN TO OFFICE

During the Initial Return to Office phase, we believe the following design considerations should be addressed. Existing spaces may require modifications that help to minimize employee contact, provide a clean working environment, and ensure the safety and health of individuals within the office. Policies and procedures as well as minimal space modifications are anticipated to promote best practices in maintaining safe air quality and upgrading existing facilities to promote mobile working technologies.


To minimize employee contact, instructional signage should be considered to encourage physical distancing practices. Traffic patterns should be studied for potential modifications to reduce the number of doors that are accessible as entry and exit points. Circulation pathways should also be examined to lessen incidental contact, and separation panels could be installed between workstations.


Increased cleanliness in the work environment may be implemented through the installation of hand-washing and hand sanitizer stations, and providing accessibility to cleaning supplies for personal station maintenance. To provide for the health of individuals within the office, employers may decide to create “hygiene hubs” to provide PPE (personal protective equipment) such as masks for employees and visitors. Dependent upon its social acceptance, fever testing locations may also be introduced. Air filters may be upgraded to ones with higher MERV ratings to help prevent the spreading of pathogens from infected to healthy individuals.


Mobile working technologies may also be upgraded to increase productivity for workers that may be considered high risk and are predisposed to developing a serious or fatal response to contracting the virus. This would include upgrading workspaces and conference rooms to support mobile connectivity for personal devices and improved mobile meeting technologies.


SHORT TERM RENOVATIONS OF EXISTING OFFICE SPACES

The second phase of design will impact the renovation of existing spaces. We anticipate this phase to occur 2 to 12 months after the return to the office. Designers will need to creatively work with their clients to determine which design strategies to implement within their existing spaces. These retrofit design ideas could include rethinking the spacing and configuration of existing furniture as well as implementation of new technologies in the use of fixtures, HVAC systems, and technology.


The design of the workplace environment including private offices, open workstation areas, collaboration areas, break rooms, and café areas may incorporate greater separation by increasing furniture spacing. This may increase the square footage per employee typically seen in the workplace requiring larger suite sizes to accommodate the same number of employees. Team rooms and huddle spaces may need to be reconfigured to accommodate fewer occupants and will likely be modified with upgraded conferencing technologies. Teleconferencing and media communication with remote teams will likely reduce the need for in person meetings.


The practice of designating “owned” spaces for employees versus hoteling or shared office spaces will likely increase in order to reduce the potential of cross-contamination caused by sharing office equipment. It is anticipated that employees may bring their own keyboard and mouse to avoid the need for cleaning or sanitizing existing desktop equipment.


LONG TERM PARADIGM SHIFT IN WORKPLACE DESIGN PRACTICES

The long-term effects on workplace design remain to be seen, however after the height of the pandemic has passed, a “new normal” will be established. At that stage, the most universally accepted design practices resulting from COVID-19 will be implemented in newly designed and constructed office spaces. We believe that lasting effects on design may occur in the layout and configuration of the workplace, the selection of easily maintained and sanitized furniture and finishes, the design of mechanical systems for air quality improvement, and the implementation of hands-free capabilities for building entries, plumbing fixtures, audio visual equipment, and access control.


Companies will likely need to reassess their programmed space needs due to various factors that could affect workplace size including the expanding effect of physical distancing and the reducing effect of new “work at home” policies that result from companies that realize that their workforce can be just as productive working remotely. These programmatic factors along with the changes to space planning design may increase the leasable area needed to serve the same functions. Also, the shift toward more open work environments rather than enclosed offices that has occurred in recent years may trend in the other direction in favor of keeping more physical separation as companies evaluate their needs for separation between employees.


Employees may expect increased touch-free access from their building entry to their work areas. Technologies related to automatic door, automated elevator call, and touchless security checkpoint access may be implemented and may even be activated by personal mobile devices. These emerging technologies would allow a building occupant to minimize contact with surfaces potentially infected with the virus. Entries into office spaces may also be equipped with fever detection devices which would need to be designed discreetly into the space. Upgraded, hands-free technology may also be integrated into hand-washing stations, hand sanitizer dispensers, office equipment, and break room fixtures.


HVAC systems may be upgraded to require more frequent air changes to ensure air is cleaner and the potential for the spread of airborne disease is reduced. Mechanical systems may also be designed to increase the quantity of outside air being infused into office spaces to mitigate the recycling of potential pathogens in the office spaces. Germicidal UV-C light fixtures may become more common to fight airborne viruses within the air distribution system. These fixtures may also be used in office spaces to reduce bacteria and viruses, but should only be in used when a room is unoccupied. It is recommended that these lights be tied into occupancy sensors so that operations are suspended if motion is detected in a room.


Due to employees’ desire to feel safe in a healthy workplace, the office environment will forever be changed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Workplace design will require client-specific implementation of new office protocols and design best practices in order to meet the unique needs of each project. The way spaces are designed will have a significant impact on a positive return to work and optimum productivity. In response, design professionals will need to assist their clients to in developing a workplace strategy that best serves their unique requirements for the initial return to the office and through long term workplace implementation.


HuntonBrady would be happy to partner with you to develop a custom workplace strategy that best serves your unique workplace requirements. To connect with us please contact


Danny Gordon or Shanna Hanson at the information below:


Danny Gordon, AIA, LEED AP Principal HuntonBrady Architects (407) 839-0886 or dgordon@huntonbrady.com


Shanna Hanson, NCIDQ, IIDA Director of Corporate Interior Design HuntonBrady Architects (407) 839-0886 or shanson@huntonbrady.com


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