How Covid has Changed the Parameters for Workplace Design

Row of cubicles in office space.
Covid-19 changed many aspects of daily life, including how and where we work. What factors may find their way into the design of new workplaces?

When COVID first hit the population, the general solution was to send everyone home, as many people as possible. Workplaces were considered a risk-zone where people could meet and pass the virus without realizing it, often days before the first symptoms appeared. In order to re-open workplaces, it became necessary to alter them. New priorities came to the forefront as furniture and floorplans were rearranged to accommodate Covid-safety. At the time, these measures were thought to be –likely– temporary. However, as Delta variant and the usual mutative behaviors of a corona virus (the common flu is also in the corona family), it seems like additional viral safety may be a permanent new-normal.

So where does that leave workplace design? We have seen some incredible, innovative and creative temporary solutions to Covid-safe design.  What was a brief invention and what is here to stay? Let’s take a deeper look into how COVID has changed the parameters for workplace design.

Covid Workplace Trends to Consider

There are three important trends that have influenced workplace design, along with what designs are here to stay.

  • Viral Safety
  • Hybrid Teams
  • Workforce Shortage

The first is viral safety, of course. The second is remote and hybrid working, which is having a huge impact on how we design office technology. The last is accessibility along with the workforce crunch. Covid, incidentally spotlighted how remote and tech-assisted work brings in a wider workforce, and the shortage is increasing priorities on making workplaces and routines more welcoming for those with disabilities, dietary limitations, and once-ignored medical conditions.

Workplace Design Trends Introduced by Covid Safety

These are the top architectural and interior design trends that have overtaken office design in response to Covid safety.

More Open Shared Work Areas

Open spaces with strong airflow are the safest way for people to work in teams and to social-distance in a shared workspace. Therefore shared and collaborative rooms are being designed with higher ceilings, larger footprints, and stronger vents. 

Outdoor Workspaces

Landscaping is being repurposed into outdoor workspaces, as being outside increases the air safety for coworkers working together. This has, in turn, encouraged the ongoing green-workplace movement, combining into a powerful covid-safe and eco-friendly design trend.

Increased Air Quality and HVAC Standards

  • Advanced air filtration
  • Increased airflow requirement
  • Airflow monitoring and airflow balance demand

Air quality is everything. People are buying personal CO2 monitors to detect when airflow is low and exhalations are building up in the room. Commercial buildings today need higher-powered blower fans, better (and more complete) air-balancing in every room, more accessible vents, and advanced micro-biology-removing air filtration systems.

Increase in Enclosed Private Offices and Project Room Pods

Where people work privately, “pod” private offices and enclosed conference rooms have become the trend. Instead of dropping a cube, employers are switching to enclosed glass & opaque semi-sealed office pods. This increases the number of people with private offices and decreases the “shared” airflow from desk to desk and.

Pods are also easier to isolate for cleaning. Conference rooms take slightly larger pods and encourage meetings between groups limited in size. This has also combined with the digital door sign trend of mounted tablets to schedule, book, and lock conference and office pods.

Hybrid Office Technological Design

Hybrid is the natural result of the remote-migration and the slow transition back to the office. Many companies discovered that remote work meshes well with their business plan, and so hybrid team technology is the new hit. Today, designers are still comparing the best techniques to provide simultaneous streaming with both on-site and remote team members, and advancements are impressive.

Advanced Smart-Security Features

Infra-red cameras to detect fever, pattern-tracking cameras to measure social distance and spot missing masks, sign-in facilities to limit capacity – these measures drastically increased the effective security level of many office buildings. There’s every reason for these advancements in camera and AI office technology to stay, even if the focus on immuno-security drops.

Challenges Faced by Post-Covid Clients and Designers

Workplace owners, businesses, designers, and architects face a unique set of challenges today in workplace design. In addition to designing all-new virally safe workplace solutions, designers are also facing a shortage of building materials brought on by the shipping slow-down. A combination of shipping container SNAFUs and a shortage of truck drivers has led to an increase in the cost and decrease in the availability of materials.

We are also working with a situation that is not deeply tested yet. While there is a depth of research on immunobiology and viral safety, there is less on applied means for widespread safety in a shared workplace. We are inventing, testing, and improving methods as we go, which means learning from what’s been done before and innovating with science-backed new theories with each new design.

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