Commercial buildings are having an evolution thrust upon them as COVID-19 makes the lure of the outdoors even more attractive to office occupants.

Adding outdoor work areas to the commercial office

While biophilic design elements within commercial spaces were increasing in popularity before the pandemic, it now goes much further. It’s well established that COVID-19 virus transmission is more likely to occur indoors where virus droplets are more easily dispersed. With mobile technology allowing many of us to park that laptop on a bench and enjoy fresh air while working, working outdoors is both desirable and feasible.

Activating outdoor spaces

Many property managers are now looking to activate their outdoor offerings, adding desk space, plug-ins, Wi-Fi capabilities and other options to lure the slow trickle of the workforce who was working from home back to the office. Building managers are adding amenities like patios, eating areas and water features – with careful considerations such as shading, land grading, sanitization measures, privacy measures and keeping social distancing requirements in mind.

Adding walking trails is a quick fix, Gib Durden, vice president of business development for Austell, GA-based AHighGrove Partners, LLC, tells Facility Executive.

“People like to get out and be a little bit active,” Durden says. “I see a lot of times as I’m visiting sites you’ll see people just walking around the perimeter of the parking lot, which is not really probably the most ideal way to go get some exercise. So, you can create some sort of path system. It doesn’t even have to be paved. It could be on gravel or a hardwood mulch.”

A recent webinar titled Why Experience is the Next Big Office Amenity, by Urban Land Institute (ULI), explored some program offerings that building managers can include to make outdoor spaces attractive to occupants such as virtual fitness classes and contactless food delivery options.

Adding spaces for fitness options, like sports courts, are also increasingly popular. During the ULI webinar, per REBusinessOnline, panelist Tom Larance, head of experience management at JLL’s Chicago office, states,

“We’re fielding a lot of requests from our landlord clients, and we’ve seen some really beautiful, curated spaces that are also being redesigned to have more tennis courts, squash courts and whatnot,” he said. “We’re seeing these spaces evolve to more than just places to go outside and eat and socialize. We’re studying these spaces carefully and trying to figure out how they can contribute to health and wellness.”

Going even further, some architectural firms have revamped what were traditionally indoor spaces. Opening up a stale conference room to an indoor/outdoor space is a compelling example as outlined by ArchDaily.

…the main conference room, which is typically one of the largest spaces in an office, is being re-imagined as an indoor-outdoor space. Designed by SF Bay Area–based RossDrulisCusenbery, the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s new Emergency Operations Center in Martinez, California, has a conference room that seats a crowd of 175 on risers. But the back wall can be opened up entirely to a shaded patio via a glass garage door, to accommodate another 100 people, and provide flexible space for training sessions.

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