Updated: Jan 18
When lockdown is keeping us away from the office, it's the perfect timing to think about how a new office could look in the post COVID-19 world, and how to get ready for it.
Flexibility is key.
Workplace must be able to easily accommodate to temporary restrictions in the future. Flexible furniture solutions, adjustable floor plans and circulation paths, multi-purpose spaces that can be tweaked at a moment’s notice. A strong focus on technology and other flexible solutions, all this will be critical components to a successful design.
Interior Design being our core activity and focus, LifeStyle Connected investigated insightful research studies (including Schrimmer Design Group, Lebel & Bouliane, Ewing Cole, Smith Group, Paramount Optimisingspace), adding its own experience with corporate customers to identify and short list 10 key steps to adapt your office design to a post Covid-19 new reality.
1. Welcome experience
Reception is the place to provide immediate welcoming and warm atmosphere for visitors.
In the future workplace environment receptions should include elements supporting social distancing, touchless technologies, furniture and material enhancing safety as well as facilitate cleanability.
The “entrance” provides the perfect backdrop to showcase your company values to staff and visitors.
The entrance materializes the first impression of safety and preparedness. Then:
Potential health screening devices at entry points are essential for controlling and monitoring workplaces access,
Digital signage, body temperature scanner and floor markings will facilitate people's flow. Avoid overpower directional signage.Favour a subtle display throughout the design, including flooring, furniture and manifestations, to safely ease the route and flow of traffic around the building without negatively impacting aesthetics.
2. Open space becomes adaptable
There’s been a lot of speculation about the office and the long-lasting impact COVID-19 will have on the ever-popular open plan space.
This pandemic doesn’t have to mean the end for the open plan office, it’s simply an evolution. We’re going to find different, more effective, ways of using open plan spaces for the better.
First and foremost, open floor plans are much easier to clean and limit the amount of surface areas employees will touch. Door handles, cubical openings, and arms of chairs are some of the most touched objects in offices. They are making offices safe from a distancing perspective but perhaps relatively unsafe from a germ spreading perspective. Similarly, it's more likely than not every office uses the same HVAC system, which is known to spread COVID-19 and other pathogens.
A proper ventilation - key to preventing the spread of COVID-19 and other pathogens, as well as having an open floor plan where you can open up windows would quickly improve office ventilation. If you can’t open your windows or doing so won’t ventilate the entire area, it may be time to invest in an office climate control system that companies throughout China have adapted.
By using loose furniture to create screening, the space could sub-divide into alternative zones for workstations, visitor space, meeting areas and break out areas.
Incorporating plants and green walls into all spaces allows for connection to the natural world, calm, as well they practically deal with cleaning and filtering the air. Also, with more open collaboration the need for better acoustically performing spaces will increase. Hence, more attention to acoustic materials and design will be key.
Many open floor plans are not perfect. Many will need to adjust to accommodate personal space while still encouraging collaboration and giving employees a sense of transparency.
Open plan spaces are versatile, and the potential is huge. With the government guidelines in mind, right now we must consider using this space by reducing density and introducing clearly de-lineated spaces that create division but avoids isolating teams.
3. Dedicated quiet zones
There will be a need for quiet, focused area to optimally perform people's responsibilities. By introducing dedicated quiet zones so people can focus on their work, it will support staff, as well as raising productivity. Collaboration was one of the biggest challenges of working from home, so defined areas that can foster open discussion, creativity and team working will encourage people back to the office .
This modern style working environment is attractive to employees. If we want to get the best out of our people, we must provide an office experience that is appealing to all and an environment that accommodates employees’ individual needs.
4. Enclosed vs open meeting space
During the pre-COVID-19 world, a newly designed space would usually include at least one enclosed meeting room with half a dozen chairs. Move on a few months, where we’ve heavily relied on Zoom, Teams and Skype for client meetings, interviews and project work, our new workspace now needs to adapt to accommodate another way of holding meetings effectively. Technology will play a big part here.
What we can’t ignore, however, is that an enclosed meeting room is deemed a high-risk area. To mitigate risk, offices can be designed to create open meeting spaces by using dividing screens away from high-density areas. To support physical well-being and reduce the chance of infection, employers can encourage shorter standing meetings and a booking system .
5. Smaller Conference Rooms
With a mandate to de-densify offices, many employers will further embrace flexible work and allow more employees to telecommute. But what does that mean for our offices? Since some employees will still be working from the office. Businesses will need to ensure employees can connect frequently and more seamlessly. You can have two people working in a smaller meeting room - while still keeping a social distance - communicating with those who are working from home. This means it may be time to up your office AV game. It is an investment that should have a big return. More meeting rooms (that use swinging or motion sensor doors – or no doors at all) will ensure teams are still regularly connecting and working efficiently
6. Well being at heart
Workplaces need to be designed not only with tasks and productivity in mind, but must now take into account people’s mental and physical well-being.
Returning to work at the office, break out areas need to be given the attention they deserve, and not just in terms of sanitization and safety.
Well-being and loneliness are the biggest challenge to home working. Break out areas can take many forms. Any howl, ultimately they support people as a place of rest and/or socialization.
Biophilic design has been popular for some time now. By introducing natural elements into the workplace, such as vertical farms. It is proven to have a positive impact on reducing mental fatigue, increasing productivity and wellness. It’s not just living walls and potted plants, but better air filtration, lighting and water features can also help to bring the outdoors indoor. Nature calls. To learn more about biophilic design read our article.
7. Focus on furniture, appliances, and finishes
You’ll need to future-proof our environments with the use of adaptable furniture, careful selection of finish materials easy to sanitize and antimicrobial, and 21st-century appliances and technology that limit touching and make our office spaces more efficient.
Furniture: lightweight, kinetic and flexible furniture that is easily movable, reconfigured, and sanitized will help ensure that you are keeping your employees safe and providing you with the flexibility to change your floor plans when needed.
Appliances: Kitchens, pantries, and bathrooms need to incorporate innovation. For instance, instead of one communal refrigerator or dishwasher that ends up becoming a cesspool for viruses, you can install numerous refrigerator and dishwasher draws and designate each for different departments.
Finishes: Some finishes are much easier and cheaper to clean than other surfaces. In addition to microfiber, there are self-cleaning surfaces prime for offices.
Technology will drive buildings and offices to be worker-friendly and safe. Touch-less technology and upgraded building mechanical system will provide optimal environmental control. New technology includes:
Motion lights and motion sensors when entering a room or turning on a facet,
Doors that open automatically with motion sensors or facial recognition,
Elevators and AV systems that can be ordered and controlled from a smartphone.
8. Enhance Amenities: superior comforts for the post-pandemic office
As large segments of employees across industries express a desire to continue to work from home following the COVID-19 pandemic, employers are exploring a new generation of amenities and differentiators to entice staff to return to the office, while keeping them safe, happy, healthy and engaged.
Get prepared for a rising new amenities and employee offerings, including the following:
state-of-the-art fitness offerings. High-quality food & dining options. Spaces to connect over beverages, i.e.coffee bars, wine bars & more impactful gathering spaces rich in meaningful design touches. Out-of-the-ordinary anything!
9. Office Transparency - Educating Employees
Road markings and signs are vital to ensure to maintain order. Emblems, decals, floor stickers work and need to be adapted into the office spaces.
The best way to ensure employees are keeping the proper social distance and reduce density while waiting for the elevator - or lift - is to put down floor stickers to signal where one should stand as they wait.
If your office has narrow hallways, perhaps some get turned into one-way-only corridors - if possible. Businesses need to communicate and be transparent with their employees and guest to re-evaluate work schedules, assign routing in circulation areas and unassigned seating, and establish cleaning and de-densifying protocols.
10. Embrace the Unconventional
Now is the time to think outside the box. The way we work is changing, and unconventional office spaces with unique floor plans can help brand your company encourage employees to think outside the box.
As employees become more and more comfortable with flexible work and social distancing, they will become more comfortable. They perhaps may prefer unconventional workspaces and floor plans that keep them safer and healthier.
For example to expand the culinary programs for the office spaces that allow for staff to stay within their office for the day. The safe food culinary programs decrease the need for employees to do multiple trips outside of their office and provides healthy options at no cost. It is a huge benefit for employee's retention and it motivates team members to work in the office and collaborate - at a time when so many need that motivation.
Read more tips on how to arrange your office Interior Design