6 Office Design Trends In Post-Covid-19 World

How to Ensure Employees Feel Safe In Their Post COVID-19 Office Space

Photo Credit: Adrien Williams for Lebel & Bouliane

 

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended our work life by altering how and where we do our jobs, testing how each of our businesses can adapt to flexible work, and making us all rethink the future of how we work and whether office layouts as we know them make sense in our new normal. The evolution to accommodate flexible work isn’t new and is one we predict will continue to change our office spaces after the COVID-19 pandemic, but COVID-19 has created the need for a faster than anticipated transformation for all our offices to support working from home, social distancing, and providing cleaner and more efficient workspaces. 

 

Any business owner can agree the ramifications of the COVID-19 shutdown are overwhelming, between loss of revenue, making the difficult decision to downsize their workforce if they haven’t already, and the uncertainly of when people will be able to return to business as usual. As we start to consider the end of quarantine and what the future holds in our new normal, we’ve partnered with our trusted friends at New York-based Schrimmer Design Group and Toronto-based Lebel & Bouliane to provide guidance and help you rethink your office spaces through both forward-looking (big ideas) and simple (and inexpensive) ways to protect your office and your employees from current and future pathogens and help them feel safe coming back to the office. 

1. Workstations Prioritize Physical Distancing: New Layouts and What to Invest In 

The challenge that many offices will face is ensuring a six-foot distance between workstations – which governments may or may not continue to mandate. Regardless, employees will feel safer knowing their employer is providing a workstation with the appropriate social distance so they can focus on output, instead of worrying about getting sick.  

Office desks have shrunk over the years, mostly because our technology (phones, computers, printers, fax machines) have either become obsolete or shrunk as well. Will our desks increase in size to create proper social distance boundaries, or will we provide more free space between them? Ultimately this will be up to each business. 

Businesses who have relied on open layouts in the past may opt to continue using large tables to serve multiple workers (especially those who are on a flexible work schedule and only in the office a few times a week or month, which we predict will only continue to grow in numbers). Still, chairs will need to be staggered around the tables (or “hot-desks”) to ensure the proper six-foot distance. For instance, a table that once could fit 8 people may now have to accommodate only 3. But, those 5 other employees may be able to work from home those days. Additionally, businesses may add “workstation enclosures” like transparent plastic or glass screening panels that can protect employees but still allow them to see one another and interact. 

If you are a business where people cannot work from home for the most part, you’ll have to either invest in new, more traditional desks that create safe distance between employees or redesign the tables in your space to accommodate the new guidelines. In many cases, this can mean needing a new space plan to modify your existing space or taking larger space to safely accommodate the same number of employees. We are here to help with both, either by connecting you to a trusted architect for a space plan or helping you talk to your Landlord about finding new (or add on) space in their portfolio.

When thinking about workstations, it might also be a good idea to invest in personal laptops, tablets, or phones for your employees. Workstations can become minimal if you limit what’s on them, and giving every employee their own devices that they can commute with and are responsible for will limit the number of wires and desk objects and help keep your office space clean and healthy.  You may also want to invest in disposable, recyclable place mats; when an employee comes in each morning, she can grab a disposable, recyclable placemat for her desk and will then recycle the placemat at the end of her day so your nightly cleaning crew will be able to clean the workstation thoroughly.

Design companies like Schrimmer Design Group and Lebel & Bouliane have already begun to design creative prototypes of new workstations and pod typologies before COVID-19. Still, they are prime for the post-COVID_19 office environment. Here is what they say:

“For many of our creative clients, having their staff come back and work collaboratively again is key – so we have created desk pods that allow for distance and collaboration between 3 and 4 employees. The “X and Y” prototype desks allow for working closely without the need for temporary plastic shields (something that could negatively affect collaboration and working openly together). 

Many office environments returning to existing facilities will need to do quick solutions with what they have (space out staff at tables, plastic shields, etc.), but the X and Y prototype desks propose a permanent solution for working together (but separate) as office environments evolve. Incorporating tech into each pod would (including a central screen display for meetings with other groups and remote workers), allows the pod to multi-task as meeting space – extending the useable square footage of each pod. “

 

2. Open Floor Plans Aren’t Bad And Aren’t Going Anywhere

Photo Credit: Lebel & Bouliane

 

The trend of open office spaces is not going anywhere – even if research points to them not being so productive. 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, making offices safe from a distancing perspective but perhaps relatively unsafe from a germ spreading perspective.  Similarly, more likely than not every office uses the same HVAC system, which is known to spread COVID-19 and other pathogens. 

We know proper ventilation is key to preventing the spread of COVID-19 and other pathogens, and 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 which companies throughout China have adapted.  

Here is what Schrimmer Design Group and Lebel & Bouliane say:

“The trend to healthier and greener interior spaces will continue. For many of our office interior projects we include a landscape consultant …. incorporating plants and green walls into all our 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 (and frankly talking 6′ apart…) will increase the need for better acoustically performing spaces, so 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. Schrimmer Design shows us a case study of how open floor plans can provide social distance: 

 

 

3. A Heightened Focus On Furniture, Appliances, And Finishes 

We’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.   

FurnitureLightweight, 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. Additionally, microfibre couches and chairs are great for cleaning up spills. They have an excellent reputation for being functional all-round fabrics designed to withstand heavy use yet are easy to maintain. To clean a microfiber sofa, all you need to do is put some alcohol on a damp cloth and clean the area by rubbing in a circular motion. Read our post: COVID-19 and the Future of Office Furniture

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. Self-cleaning surfaces are a class of materials with the inherent ability to remove any debris or bacteria from their surfaces in a variety of ways. One company, NanoSeptic, uses skins and mats to turn dirty high traffic public touch-points like elevator buttons and door handles into continuously self-cleaning surfaces. 

Technology: Technology will drive building and office 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

 

 

4. More Smaller Conference Rooms 

Photo Credit: Schrimmer Design Group

 

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.

 

5. Office Transparency = Educating Employees 

 

We have become so accustomed to road markings and signs that we forget how vital they are to ensure we maintain order. Emblems, decals, floor stickers work, and need to be adapted into our retail environments and our 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 with and be transparent with their employees and guest to re-evaluate work schedules, assign routing in circulation areas and unassigned seating, and to establish cleaning and de-densifying protocols.

 

 

6. 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 and present new profitable opportunities. 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. 

Schrimmer Design Group and Lebel & Bouliane say:

“We are working with some of our Tech clients to expand their culinary programs for their 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. So they also have huge benefits for employee retention and motivates team members to work in the office and collaborate (at a time when so may need that motivation).” 

We’re here to help you think about your post-COVID-19 office space and how to create a new office layout to ensure your employees feel safe, whether it’s helping you directly or connecting you to our trusted partners at Schrimmer Design Group and Lebel & Bouliane. Please feel free to contact Bert Rosenblatt at brosenblatt@vicuspartners.com

Check out our posts:

“4 Urban Planning Trends (Post COVID-19)” 

“COVID-19 and the Future of Office Furniture” 

“7 Simple COVID-19 Office Updates To Help Employees Feel Safe”

“5 Office HVAC Solutions To Comply With State COVID-19 Guidelines”