Now & the Next Steps: Post-COVID-19 Workplace Design
During this COVID-19 crisis, our community has been tested and our lifestyle forced to change. These moments have led designers to ask challenging elemental questions about where we (used to) spend most of our days – our places of work.
As a business leader or investor, one might be tempted to enact quick, temporary solutions in their facilities to resolve pandemic-related concerns. However, we should really ask ourselves: what core lessons can we learn from current events that, when strategically implemented in our buildings, will end up as long-lasting trends and consequently a solid investment opportunity for the future?
The goal is to keep ourselves and our colleagues safe and comfortable at work, but where specifically should leaders focus their energy and capital? Not sure your office is ready for a complete design overhaul? Responsible measures can still be retrofitted into your current facility. To ensure our workplaces evolve with time, in this article we suggest short- and long-term solutions involving HVAC & electrical components, architectural design, and attention to program and wellness needs.
Maintain a Healthy Atmosphere: HVAC & Electrical Improvements
From our design experience in the life science industry, we understand that personnel flow, HVAC design, and standard operating procedures are extremely important to maintain a classified clean space. At an office or any other facility, the same basic principles would apply.
The Solution for Now
Flush the facility building with fresh air based on the design of the makeup/outside air system for 24-72 hours
If possible, change the air filters as an added precaution; follow manufacturer recommendations for filter maintenance
HVAC systems should be adjusted to have increased fresh air intake, increased after-hours humidity, and added HEPA filtration to minimize airborne transmissions
The Next Steps
Replace or purchase a new HVAC system or air-handler with an increased percentage of fresh air intake and air changes per hour
Choose the filtration system that best suits your facility and occupancy
Replace filters often and train building managers and facilities engineers to become experienced with and understand the systems that are put in place; set protocol for an engineer to schedule and maintain housekeeping and sanitization
Install an efficiently engineered system with ventilation-related strategies such as dilution, laminar airflow patterns, pressurization, temperature and humidity distribution and control, filtration, and other strategies such as ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI)
Utilize innovative technology such as lighting that can disinfect your environment effectively and continuously. Certain luminaires can routinely treat harmful microorganisms suspended in air, trapped on objects, and residing on surfaces. These light fixtures can potentially kill harmful bacteria, at a nominal cost to your facility [1,2]
Add Occupancy Sensors, Motion Sensors, and/or facial or voice-activated controls throughout the building for a touch-free solution and an added benefit of energy conservation
Preserve Work Culture While Promoting Health: Solutions by Design
Among all the uncertainty of the past few months, one thing has remained certain – protecting you and your loved ones’ health is most important. Secondly, individuals have the power to protect others they interact with – by avoiding physical contact. While many will choose to wear masks and gloves upon returning to work and others will simply sanitize their surroundings more regularly, leaders must recognize that implementing “physical distancing” will be a serious consideration for workplace design in the foreseeable future.
How can we design our workplaces to temporarily encourage physical distancing without losing the collaborative, productive work culture we have worked so hard to achieve? As a longer term solution, how will we prioritize the well-being of our team, both mentally and physically?
The Solution for Now
Create uni-directional circulation through spaces to avoid immediate contact between individuals
Seat employees at every other workstation in a “checkered” manner
Reduce the number of shared printers, scanners, and administrative tools to discourage use of printing and communal areas
Sanitize entrance and exit doors multiple times per day and provide hand sanitizer within the business
Designate one location for reception and disinfection of deliveries to the building/space
Assign delivery management and sterilization as a task to specific employees
Reduce touch points and increase cleaning: open or eliminate doors from your office design
Consider staggering work and lunch hours
Utilize vertical elements, thresholds, and partitions thoughtfully
Install glass partitions, sneeze guards or shields where close and prolonged face-to-face contact occurs between employee and visitor; add glass or acrylic screens to any workstation (cubicle) panels 50”H or less
When no physical separation exists, position employees so that they are not facing each other
The Next Steps
Take cues from cleanroom design; reduce horizontal surfaces and minimize un-cleanable nooks and crannies - areas of potential dust settlement
Use modular or stackable furniture with a kit of parts that can be reused, manipulated, or reorganized for maximum flexibility in an evolving social environment
Increase use of hard surface panel tiles as opposed to fabric (easier to clean)
Integrate storage within workstations for personal belongings to keep items off the floor
Decrease density of the workforce by reducing persons per square foot at your facility
Back to the Basics – What we need from our place of work
As a leader in your industry and workplace, you are not only responsible for the physical health and safety of your staff, but also their mental well-being. After experiencing a work-from-home lifestyle, the work-life balance has shifted for many. The last thing employees want when they return to work is a distressing atmosphere in which they feel restricted and anxious.
To ensure that staff feel positive about their work environment, the initial stage of design programming is absolutely essential when considering any form of office modifications. In effect, the programming stage allows our designers to directly consider the needs of key stakeholders for the project and focus our solutions.
While people have realized that much of their jobs can generally be fulfilled remotely, a new appreciation has also been discovered for former day-to-day encounters with colleagues, the bouncing of ideas off of peers and building of relationships with clients through in-person communication. In a survey report of more than 1000 office workers created by Hana, it was determined that “professionals [most] value meaningful interactions in the workplace” over other social or networking events.  When looking for a design solution, we as the designer will perform a programming study to ensure that our solution will address the company’s needs, in turn providing a constructive work environment.
The Solution for Now
Provide a transition from home to work by encouraging remote workdays
Maintain clean work surfaces by making available EPA-approved antimicrobial products and setting up disinfection stations for employees to use throughout their day
Recognize the anxiety in returning to work; communicate transparently and regularly
Introduce and maintain indoor plants for clean air and mental satisfaction
Use botanical installations to naturally direct employee travel, which subtly encourages physical distancing practices.
Use friendly visual cues to direct personnel; use clear A/V communications or simple signage
Outline clear room capacity rules to lessen the density of staff in one space
Remind meeting room users of social distancing protocols, when sitting or congregating in a space
Remind staff to clean their stations and heavily used meeting room devices and pantry components before use.
The Next Steps
Introduce systems at the office that allow for easy transitions between remote and in-office work (i.e. laptops with docking stations, teleconferencing, etc.)
Create visitor workstations that prevent personal storage and that are emptied and sanitized between uses
Expose natural daylight and window coverage to maximum number of team members
Introduce recreational or wind down areas, a meditation/gym, or a walking track to promote overall immunity and wellness
Introduce water features for a relaxing and peaceful atmosphere
Use living walls and natural partitions to direct travel, disperse occupancy and diffuse sound in shared workspaces
Use color, texture, and material to create a professional yet comfortable setting for clients and employees alike
Strategically place botanicals to filter chemicals and harmful toxins out of the air and communal areas.
Choose highly durable, low maintenance finishes that promote healthy indoor air quality, are easy to clean, versatile and discourage bacteria growth and germ absorption
Always choose materials that are environmentally friendly to prevent future contact with toxic substances or waste
Identify Future and Present Design Goals
Understanding how companies are reacting to this pandemic, our overarching recommendations to keep in mind are:
Invest in updating your facilities to promote the physical and mental health of yourself and your team members to withstand future storms, gain loyalty and promote the longevity of your business
Consider shorter lease terms and smarter use of space
Create flexible and multipurpose spaces with equipment and furniture that can easily be assembled as a kit of parts, manipulated to conform with changing environmental and social requirements
Focus on automation. With smart technology, you can develop automated scenes that can be customized to building operations and events with minimal human intervention
Invest in building utilities and operational technologies that enhance the integration, outlook, and control of building and workplace systems
For more information on how we can help you now and with your next steps, contact Kamlesh Shah Designs via phone or email.
 “Indigo-Clean.” Pinnacle Architectural Lighting, Diversified New Jersey, www.pinnacle-ltg.com/products/ingido-clean/.
 Hubbell Lighting. SpectraClean Antimicrobial Lighting. SpectraClean Antimicrobial Lighting, Hubbell Lighting, 2019.
 COVID-19 Drives Demand for Flexibility and More Meaningful Office Connections. Hana, 2020.