Covid-19 has reshaped our society, the economy and work as we know it. It’s a bold statement but it rings true. The pandemic has forced us all to question so many elements of our day-to-day lives. It has forced us to think about what really matters to us and to the world we live in.
But work must go on as the economy has taken a massive hit and will continue to worsen if the lockdown period continues. Businesses have reopened but with strict guidelines to adhere to as citizens are heading back to the office in a gradual manner.
In an effort to restart the economy,many companies are following suit to reopen their offices. Safety is a top priority and it is implemented by creating two or more separate work schedules for staff to ensure that the office is not at max capacity. Despite this, many are feeling anxious about returning to work. Redesigning the workplace during the pandemic and even for a post-pandemic world requires careful planning, thought and innovation. Does that mean that we say goodbye to the open office forever? Well, not quite yet.
A boardroom packed with people is not going to be a common sight anytime soon. Instead, people should be seated further apart with a capacity of less than 50%. Most meetings can be conducted virtually to eliminate any face-to-face contact.
Architects 3XN have designed an office complex in Berlin that integrates technology seamlessly with an innovative AI "learning brain" that is combined with an app that allows tenants book work spaces and meeting rooms, individually adjust light levels and room temperature as well as unlock access points and doors. It evaluates data in real time for optimisation. Employees in China are returning to work and they are relying heavily on tech for tracking and include multiple check points in the offices.
When we think of offices, the intense cold from the central air-conditioning comes to mind. It is a contrast to the tropical whether we’re used to outside. However, we need to rethink air-filtration systems to mitigate the spread of the virus. Curb our over reliance on AC and bring in some fresh air into a space. This is where operable windows come in the picture. The advantage to operable windows is that they not only bring in fresh air and dilute the airborne contaminants that pass from person to person, but they give occupants a feeling of greater control over the office environment.
Employers should include an abundance of hand-sanitisers in visible areas to encourage their use if they don't already have them around. The office should also be cleaned and disinfected regularly.
With anxious employees slowly returning to the office, it is important to create a calm environment. This can be done by adding roof decks or outdoor spaces to give workers an indoor-outdoor connection. This is a great way to repurpose spaces in older offices or to design fresh new ones in buildings that that have been recently renovated.
Implementing biophillic design elements can also make the office environment healthier. Human beings have an inherent need to connect with nature and green spaces. This doesn't mean one should just haphazardly throw in some succulents and call it a day. It is to truly achieve the effect of emulating outdoor environments and bring it indoors; an interior designer might think about incorporating a living wall or plants of varying heights and textures. Imagine cascading plants throughout the space and some clustered together to mimic the random way plants appear in nature. Incorporating nature can actually help to reduce stress and enhance creativity. Besides the positive affect it might have on employees; having plants indoors can also minimize dust, reduce pollutants, detoxify the office environment.
Say Goodbye To Poor Space Planning
While remote working has proved surprisingly effective for many, a complete lack of face-to-face interaction is something employees struggle with. So perhaps we to rethink the space planning and layout of offices. The cramped office floors we're used to that stuff multiple employee is a sad excuse of an "open concept design" office and should be a thing of the past. Open concept design is to eliminate walls, cubicles and physical barriers between employees, however this trend has caused builders and employers to reduce cost by setting desks too close to each other in an effort to put as many people as they can in one space. Spatial choreography is an important factor, even more so now that there is a concern about the virus and being in close proximity with others. To orchestrate a better flow of employees in the building, think wider hallways or properly spaced out tables with some level of privacy and separation.
Adjustments need to be made to provide a more hygienic environment. One obvious area is to reexamine shared facilities, like toilets. They can be designed with door-free entrances similar to airport restrooms – a strategy that greatly reduces the need to touch foreign surfaces, like door handles, which could transmit bacteria or viruses. Alternatively, having a voice activated door system could work as well.
The lessons that we have learned from this pandemic is that that we need to design our surroundings to integrate health and wellness. It is an opportunity we can use to redesign and built a better environment for employees.