As the COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the global landscape in just a few short months, the question inevitably arises: how will it change our workforce and, in turn, our office spaces? While the future of commercial design in a post-pandemic world is far from certain, industry experts at The American Institute of Architects released a report in June with suggestions on how to navigate the reopening of buildings across the nation. These tips are helpful for design professionals and employers looking to mitigate risk factors for clients and employees.
While technology in the workplace isn’t new, there are certain places where introducing innovative tools can reduce potential exposure to COVID-19 and increase overall efficiency. Upon entering a building, the AIA suggests installing touch-free turnstiles that operate with wireless or swiping cards and reducing check-in and security lines with scanning tools. Elevators have also been a subject of debate among industry professionals because the small space makes it nearly impossible to implement social distancing. Yet, by programming elevators to operate independently or with a lobby-attendant, picking up a limited number of riders at one floor only and stopping at each floor, the AIA says safety hazards are substantially reduced.
Though functionality and flow of movement have always maintained an important place in commercial design, they will only become more important factors in a post-COVID-19 world. One of the most significant steps to reducing risk is creating separate lobbies, corridors and drop-off zones for people who are entering and exiting. Along the same lines, configuring restrooms to operate without entrance/exit doors also increases the flow of movement and discourages gathering. Doing so will ensure that commuting in each area of the office is aligned with federal social distancing standards.
The densification of office spaces initiated by the last recession and furthered by minimalistic design trends is on its last leg. Between 2009 and 2017, the average square foot per employee in the U.S. dropped from 211 square feet to 194, according to Cushman and Wakefield. Now, this lack of privacy is one of the major barriers to reopening offices. As professionals create spaces that both encourage collaboration and mitigate risk factors, the AIA recommends eliminating many shared items and spaces, including coat closets, unnecessary lobby seating and large meeting rooms. Instead, physical barriers such as desk partitions and acoustic treatment to help people to be heard while wearing masks should be installed. Additionally, providing video capabilities for large meetings and staggering workstations in well-ventilated rooms will help keep employees safe.
While we cannot be certain how long social distancing measures will last or what a post-pandemic office space will truly look like, Johnson Simon is here to assist you and your team in this brave new world. In the meantime, we’re also offering virtual consultations to help our clients prepare for what lies ahead. If you’re interested in learning more, call us today at (281) 682-5113. Now, more than ever before, safety is as important as aesthetic and function.