Office design is transforming in the new now
This post is part of our series focused on the seismic shift in work systems, traditional office typology, and more. Start at the beginning with an overview.
Offices across the world are reopening after the Coronavirus lockdowns, but that doesn’t mean everything about them has gone back to the way it was before December 2019.
The offices of the ‘old normal’ have been redefined in a number of ways which we will explore in this blog post. It’s up to employees and managers alike, as individuals, to keep the Coronavirus out of the company as well as from our homes, but how are offices around the world dealing with this in a concrete way?
Safer workplaces need dynamic design decisions
If you’re looking forward to getting back into your workspace, but aren’t sure what to expect, read on!
Key questions we tackle are:
- How are office designers are dealing with the pandemic in the short term and the longer term?
- What ways are offices around the world shifting to adapt to social distancing restrictions?
These are both things you’ll definitely want to keep in mind if you’re the one in charge of adapting workspace interiors right now. Obviously, if you’re setting up a new office space, you have more leeway, but there are still changings being made to existing offices to make them 'healthier'.
Will the coronavirus kill office life?
People have been decrying the death of the office for years, and no, not even a global pandemic is going to kill office life. It will, however, transform it.
Health and safety are the most important things about office work today: office-workers want to stay healthy, and employers want to help keep them that way. The lynchpin in all this lies in how office architecture and interior layout can help employees and management stay healthy.
To be honest, we’ve known how to make buildings healthier for decades already, but none of the recommendations have been successfully implemented on a wider scale.
Perhaps the pandemic will change this.
“The science is decades old on all the benefits that come from healthy buildings, including infectious disease reduction,” says Joseph Allen, director of the Healthy Buildings program at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
This all means that the prevailing idea around what makes an office space cool, trendy, or desirable, is turned on its head.
The community-centred workplaces of companies like Google, famed for their ‘fun’ facilities and perks (slides in the office, anyone?), have become wildly unfeasible overnight. Companies are grappling with how they’re going to manage their workforce now that lockdowns are easing throughout the world.
To anticipate this impact on workplace design, architecture firm Woods Bagot has reimagined workplace layouts, and argue that these new models of workspace layout will be adapted in one form or another by offices throughout the world.
This architecture firm sees a fusion of office work and working from home as a defining feature of the post-pandemic workspace layouts
Coronavirus: office solutions for the new now
Paul Ferro of Form4 Architecture created a guide for companies returning to their offices. He argues in Dezeen that post coronavirus requirements are "at odds" with modern workplaces.
What we need now in interior design and architecture is agility. Successful spaces will be those that adapt the fastest to new regulations.
Offices with restricted entry points
Offices with multiple entrances are being restricted to one entrance only, with a separate exit point. These precautions control the flow within the building in order to keep workers segregated, and therefore safer from germs.
Another way to restrict movement in the office building is to stagger your staff on a rotational basis.
Office entry areas and receptions are now natural barrier points for health screening
Reception and log-in areas are now your first point of defence against sickness at work.
Their interior logistics are seeing a massive switch up to accommodate temperature screening and compulsory sanitisation of hands and/or mobile devices. This has been the case here at Bru Textiles since before government officials imposed the lockdown. Staff enter by one entrance and are met by a trained colleague in a mask and provided with masks and hand sanitiser. Temperature scanning and sanitisation of hands and mobile devices are mandatory.
Private rooms are a thing now
Gone are the days when you’d be looked at a bit oddly for booking an entire meeting room for yourself so that you can work in peace and quiet.
Suddenly there aren’t enough empty rooms to go around to keep up with social distancing demands, and office interior designers need to tackle this head on.
One answer for this is the implementation of partitions and room dividers made from anything from glass to plastic, to padding and upholstery.
Work pods are enjoying their time in the limelight, popping up in office spaces everywhere in an attempt at creating a ‘confined’ workspace in the midst of a larger open interior.
And yes, we can say goodbye (and good riddance!) to hot desking.
Sanitising work surfaces, equipment and whole rooms is serious business
As of writing this post, current guidelines recommend that common spaces in offices are sanitised on a schedule throughout the day, with frequently touched spaces or surfaces sanitised every two to three hours.
Spring cleaning at home or at work isn’t season-bound anymore!
“How do you visualise the invisible?” asks architect Michael Murphy, the founder of MASS Design Group, in New York Magazine. “That’s one of the core challenges of design.”
The question for layout designers here is: how will you keep everywhere clean on a clockwork system, while also ensuring the safety of your cleaning staff?
Cleaning staff move throughout the entire length and breadth of office buildings on a daily basis, and as such are at a higher risk for contracting viruses themselves or spreading germs from one space to another.
- Ensuring safety of cleaning staff is paramount, and this includes putting new ‘best practices’ in place. For example, providing an exclusive supply of protective accessories like facemasks, gloves, and cleaning equipment. Updated cleaning schedules for shared spaces such as toilets and showers are a must.
- Touch-free sanitisers would also help stop the spread of germs and therefore have to be easily accessible to all staff.
Air circulation ideas for healthy rooms
The World Health Organisation has stated that fresh, clean air needs to available in all workplaces, recommending an “increased ventilation rate through natural aeration or artificial ventilation, preferably without re-circulation of the air”. – see Natural Ventilation for Infection Control in Health-Care Settings.
Studies have shown that stale air can make workers less productive, so now is a great time to sort out your airflow system in a two-birds-one-stone kind of way.
“The ability to breathe clean air freely is an architectural issue,” says architect Michael. “When you ask, ‘Is the air around me going to infect me?’ that’s a paradigm shift in the way we understand space. Maybe this epidemic demands a return to the past, when cities were agents of a healthier life and design was about creating a healthier environment.”
Biophilic design and clean air go hand in hand. A particularly nice idea that ticks both of those boxes while also being conscious of social distancing needs is to add as much greenery to partitions as possible.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this post, and found some solid things to think about for your post-pandemic office space. Don’t forget to check out the beginning of this series, and the next post will be ‘New ways of seeing: reimagining workspaces and living spaces.’