With employees heading back to work at a slow trickle, commercial property managers, architects and interior designers are all looking at ways to keep occupants safe. Present concerns have to mix with an eye to the future: What will interior office design look like post-COVID?
The most obvious changes required in commercial office design are related to physical distancing. This not only refers to spacing out workstations, but also traffic flows in areas like hallways and elevators must be considered. Distancing markers and traffic guides in hallways can be effective, as are initiatives to make staircase use more attractive.
Flexibility of space
Flexibility of space is important. With employees working from home already on the increase pre-pandemic, the desire is now stronger. Many employees are now looking for a balanced approach, where they’re using their commercial office spaces while alternating with working from home as some companies employ rotating staff schedules to better maintain distancing.
Entrance and reception areas will require at minimum hand sanitizing stations but can also include temperature checking stations and areas for visitors to pick up masks or other safety equipment. Areas for deliveries should also be separated to minimize contact.
Monitoring technology may also play a role in larger institutions. Per Facility Executive,
Facility managers will be reliant on PropTech sensors for managing real-time data on the crowds within buildings and alerts that signify if too many people are in one place at one time. Furthermore, this technology and utilization data will be how we manage the transition back to work. As employers execute staggered returns where only a certain percentage of the workforce is allowed back to the office each month, demand will increase for real-time data that examines how building behavior is changing because of that.
Improved airflow and ventilation systems are also on the list. While a major investment, upgrading HVAC systems for better air filtration and circulation, though not seen on the on the inside, is a major step forward in improving occupant health.
Touchless technologies like keyless entries to minimize high contact areas are also an important investment, as is employing the use of anti-microbial materials. Gathering areas, like large kitchens, may need to be revamped into several smaller spaces so employees can more safely prepare meals while separated.
Meeting rooms are being looked at with more multi-purpose functionality in mind and can be partitioned for other uses. The number of meetings occurring may decrease as well as the number of occupants in the room. Needs will also change as many meetings may employ a hybrid approach, where attendees will be present both in-person and virtual. This means quality AV equipment such as screens, cameras and audio are a must.
Some experts within the AEC industry predict that the changes will need to be more within occupant psyches rather than their environments. Per Building Design & Construction:
“Changes in workspaces will likely be more behavioral than physical,” observes Fred Schmidt, FIIDA, LEED AP, a Principal in Perkins and Will’s Chicago office. Associate Principal Michelle Osburn adds that companies need to alter their policies to make it more culturally acceptable for employees to stay home when they’re not feeling well. “The argument that you ‘need’ to be in the office to do your work has been proven false on a stunning scale,” she says.