Architects have always been in a unique position when it comes to shaping the way that we live and work. Now, with the vital new need to create a safe and healthy workplace, architects have an immense challenge/opportunity to redesign offices after the pandemic.
The architectural profession has been involved in The Healthy Building Movement since the early part of the century and has been gaining momentum over the last few years. The purpose of this movement is to address the physical, psychological, social health, and well-being of people in the build environment in conjunction with sustainability issues of the built environment. The new challenges we face currently will now take more emphasis in this wholistic approach.
The development of safe workspace needs careful consideration. The architect, developer and office tenant need to work together with an urgency rarely seen before. The goal is to reshape the way that we work in order to deliver the same levels of productivity while implementing social distancing measures and other features, such as touchless environments, to keep employees safe, and physically and mentally comfortable.
What, then, does the future of our working environments look like?
The Solutions to Create Safer and Healthier Office Spaces
Consider a standard office building. Architects, developers and office tenants have a range of options that they can implement to create safer workspaces, many of which are based on existing technology.
Keyless entry and automatic door opening can allow touch-free access to the building. Elevator call sensors and voice activation technology can then provide touchless transport to the relevant floor.
Lighting that is activated by motion sensors is another easy win and one that delivers environmental benefits too.
There’s a lot that can be done to make restrooms touchless as well. Outer doors can be dispensed with (as they are for airport restrooms), while everything from flush controls and faucets to soap dispensers and dryers can be controlled by sensors.
At a more fundamental level, building design for new office projects can do much to encourage social distancing. Meeting spaces and workspaces can spread across outdoor space as well as indoor space. Internally, glass and polycarbonate partitions can be used to separate workstations while still maintaining visibility. Creating pleasing and stimulation works spaces can still be created that encourage productivity and creativity.
Gathering staff together in a confined space is no longer advisable, so conference rooms and arrangements need to change. Where weather and space permit, conference facilities that blend outdoor and indoor facilities will be a big win. If that’s not possible, removing the traditional large conference table and instead arranging the room so that staff can be dispersed across it will help to respect social distancing.
Smaller meeting rooms and break rooms are now far from ideal. Where possible, larger meeting rooms should be used instead, to allow attendees to spread out within the space. Should larger rooms not be available, holding meetings over the phone or by video link should be encouraged. Indeed, the smart use of video conferencing technology can be used to facilitate everything from one-on-one catchups to large, company-wide events.
HVAC systems can assist as well, with airflow carefully examined and redirected as appropriate, avoiding cross contamination from one area to another. Openable windows can also help to ensure a plentiful supply of fresh air into the building. Improved and new systems that will eliminate viral contaminants being distributed through the systems. Is some swimming training facilities we do there is triple redundancy in the treatment of pool water.
When it comes to floorplans, architects can work with developers to alter building forms in more permanent ways. From the flow of people around the workspace to the provision of a more hygiene-focused environment, the modification of existing floorplans can make a considerable difference when it comes to providing workers with more space and safer space.
Focusing on Sanitation of Your Office Space
Ensuring that buildings are sanitary will also play a big part in the safety of our working environments. Again, this doesn’t call for fancy new technology – just solid practices. Office cleaning needs to be regular and thorough, including the use of the right cleaning products, methods and scheduling.
Adding sanitation stations throughout the building will help too, by giving workers the chance to sanitize their hands regularly throughout the day. These should be placed in breakrooms and restrooms, as well as at the building entrance. As well as hand gel, each sanitation station should also include a mask dispenser, and trash disposal.
Social Distancing as Standard in Work Environment
The other thing that office buildings can facilitate is social distancing. In the social distancing workspace, shared workstations need to go, replaced by a greater emphasis on flexible and remote working wherever possible. For those who do come into the office, signage should be used to promote social distancing around the 6-feet office rule, as well as to reinforce messaging around good hygiene.
Marking flooring is a simple but effective way to support workers to stay apart. Offices can also include heath stations, where employees can check their temperature regularly.
Final Thoughts of Redesigning Office after The Pandemic
Creating environments of this nature is not difficult. Nor is it time consuming. The technology exists and is already sufficiently mature to be widely available and relatively inexpensive. What it does require is swift attention and a focus on enable colleagues to return to the office in a safe and healthy space. Aside from the practicalities of needing to work in order to maintain the productivity of the economy as a whole, as well as to support individual families, we must remember that humans are social animals. We need to connect in person, as the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted like never before.
The challenge is for architecture firms like us to help design workspaces that promote health and safety in new ways, and still insuring that social activity can still safely take place in some form. By doing so, we can ensure that the pandemic is not something that separates us, but that enables us to work and connect with each other in new, safer ways.
If you would like to discover more about safer office buildings, including design and redesign services, contact our B+A team at firstname.lastname@example.org.