With the national push to reopen the economy after months of stay-at-home orders to minimize the spread of COVID-19 and a slew of new health and safety guidelines for businesses to follow, companies are reconfiguring what their workspace will look like once they bring employees back to the office. The verdict? It will be very different.
With COVID-19 office design, you can expect stringent social distancing rules, more frequent cleaning policies, amped-up ventilation and lighting systems, antimicrobial fabrics and materials, and sanitation stations. Open office floor plans that have become so popular over the last decade will become much less open, with more enclosed spaces and people working in staggered shifts.
Global commercial real estate company Cushman & Wakefield is already tackling these changes with its Six Feet Office, a prototype at its Amsterdam headquarters designed to help companies envision how they can adapt their workspaces to the six-feet distance rule and keep employees safe as the coronavirus rages on.
Along with properly spaced desks and beacons that track the movements of employees via their phones, its features include visual cues such as circles embedded in carpeting around each desk to remind people to stay six feet apart and arrows on the floor to encourage them to walk in clockwise lanes around the office. It also provides employees with disposable paper placemats to use on their desks each day to limit the spread of germs on surfaces. Sound elaborate? This is just a glimpse of how the pandemic will impact office design.
Office Design Ideas for Pandemic-Proofing the Workplace
What steps can businesses take now to virus-proof their workplaces and make them safer for employees? Start with these COVID-19 related office design ideas.
Social distancing will carry over into the open office, where people will need more space and distance between coworkers to feel safe. Instead of desk setups that face or bump up against each other, reconfigurations might include desks positioned back to back or in staggered patterns with six feet (or more distance) between them. Expect to see repurposed communal areas, such as conference rooms and lounge spaces, with more spacing and fewer seating options, plus wider corridor paths throughout the office.
Design elements used to nudge behaviors like social distancing will become staples in many offices. Think road markings for offices, from circles around desks reminding employees to stick to the six-foot barrier to stickers in elevators indicating where to stand. Companies can use directional and instructional signage like dry-erase boards to divert congestion and route workers through the office in a one-way flow or disposable cushion covers to block off seating.
Screens and enclosures:
Open office floor plans have already been incorporating more physical barriers into spaces to give employees the privacy they crave, but this will increase even more due to the need to socially distance and minimize the spread of germs. Companies can use panels and screens with opaque and transparent materials to preserve the feeling of openness in their offices while protecting workers from virus transmission. Dividers with varying heights between or at the ends of workstations can help create more physical separation between workers and add to their psychological comfort.
Sanitation stations and antimicrobial materials:
Hand washing and office cleaning policies will ramp up in the post-COVID-19 world like never before. Stations stocked with sanitizing supplies can be mounted at the ends of workstations for employees to clean their hands and frequently used surfaces, while portable sinks equipped with a hot water heater, towel rack, and fresh and soiled water tanks can be rolled in when employees gather for meetings or group projects. Offices can also limit contamination by replacing porous materials and hard-to-clean textiles with smooth, impermeable surfaces and bleach cleanable fabrics.
Improved air filtration and lighting systems:
Natural light and fresh air will become vital to physical (and mental) health as workers return to the office from weeks of isolating at home, especially as workstation enclosures and barriers go up. Most office HVAC systems recirculate dirty air, so companies will need systems with better ventilation to prevent the spread of airborne pathogens, including COVID-19, which can linger in the air for hours. Some offices have already started using UV lighting to disinfect offices at night or meeting rooms in between uses.
More office design innovations for combating COVID-19 are on the horizon, including contactless doors and elevators, thermal scanning screens to take temperatures, and voice-activated and videoconferencing technologies that make physical office environments more virtual. With the absence of a vaccine, employees today and in the foreseeable future will expect workplaces to take all the measures they can to protect their health and well-being, while still providing them with a productive space for connection and collaboration.