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Workplace next: post-pandemic design for companies and developers

By Heather Robbins, NCIDQ, IIDA, LEED AP, EDAC, WELL AP

Leave your laptop open — I dare you.

Then try to ignore the emails piling up. Never mind the fact that it’s 2 a.m. on a Tuesday. You wake up to take a sip of water, but the glowing rectangle calls to you. Why not knock out a few emails, answer questions, send the documents needed to keep projects moving forward.

This is the new normal.

For many employees, the well-defined lines separating cycles of work-life and home-life now blur together. A virus has left its mark on society and changed the way we think about work. Companies will need to prepare for the new-normal workplace. I recently joined a panel of LEO A DALY workplace-design experts to exchange ideas about what comes next.

Short-Term Post-Pandemic Changes to Workplace Design

The world has seen that, while it’s possible to work from home, the blending of professional and personal time has put stress on families who struggle to disconnect and dedicate time for work and home. Companies and employees alike will want to limit large gatherings so some large conference rooms may be adapted or repurposed for flexible uses, such as smaller huddle spaces.

I think we will see expanded well-being support spaces and services like meditation rooms and yoga practices. Companies may augment or create concierge services to help with work/life balance like accepting grocery delivery at work, dry-cleaning and other errands.

Once people physically start returning to the office, we may see employees having their temperatures taken and answering questions about symptoms and travel that could place them at higher risk of infection. Larger companies especially may stagger entry of departments or implement shifts for groups of people and provide for stricter cleaning regimens. Housekeeping staff may be present throughout the day, wiping surfaces as they are used.

Near-Term Post-Pandemic Changes to Workplace Design

Smart building-management technologies may help companies track usage of specific spaces, ensuring collaborative groups stay small. This could spill over into long-term.

We may see an amplified attitude promoting emotional well-being. There will be COVID-related stress, direct and indirect, including from the economy and children out of school. Personal well being is at the forefront. Companies in the past have made fitness more accessible with on-site gyms. Emotional fitness may take an equal share of floor space, making emotional wellness more accessible post-pandemic, especially in light of the transition from working from home.

Long-Term Post-Pandemic Changes to Workplace Design

Recent trends we have already seen toward “resi-mercial” interiors will continue and may grow stronger as employees transition from home environments. These are commercial interiors with a home-like feel. But there will be greater emphasis on resilient and durable surfaces because touchpoints may receive more frequent cleaning.

Social distancing could reverse recent trends toward fewer private offices and more shared collaboration spaces. Private spaces could make a comeback, but I expect they will be sized in between typical private offices and typical cubicles. Think “officles.” For the same reason, workplaces could move away from “benching” style workstations or shared “hoteling” workstations that densify workspaces. In their place: 6-foot x 6-foot workstations could be a new “standard” for office layouts.

Greater access to outdoor spaces will allow employees to spread out and rejuvenate. Walking trails and picnicking spaces for individuals and small groups may comprise greater shares of landscapes.

Smaller satellite offices may replace large corporate headquarters. Suburban real estate is less expensive and could be a strategic move to keep companies operating during disruptions such as an outbreak. Satellite offices could also be a way to reduce overall square footage and isolate smaller groups of employees to prevent large scale spread of the virus. For employees, satellite offices could reduce commute times and help them achieve greater work-life balance.

What’s next?

Detailed design solutions for post-pandemic workplaces will vary as widely as do companies, buildings, locations and cultures. Nevertheless, everyone will face some of the same challenges. We all find ourselves at a unique moment in history when there will be a mass return to work after an unprecedented disruption. We all find ourselves aware of possibilities previously unknown. Working from home can work, and it has some benefits. At the same time, it has created a work environment where we are “together-alone” and sometimes miss true togetherness. Integrated design can help companies and developers find the solutions to renew workplaces for the post-pandemic world.

This is the first in a series of design discussions about what comes next for the commercial market. Follow LEO A DALY on social media to join the conversation.

Heather Robbins

Heather E. Robbins, LEED AP ID+C, EDAC, WELL AP, NCIDQ,

Heather E. Robbins-associate senior interior designer leaodalyAbout the author

Heather E. Robbins, LEED AP ID+C, EDAC, WELL AP, NCIDQ, has nearly 15 years of experience in commercial mixed-use, healthcare, hospitality, retail, restaurant and workplace design. She brings to each project her characteristic attention to detail and forward-thinking strategies for programming, space planning and finish selection. Her corporate work has won multiple design awards. Contact Heather at 402.390.4226, herobbins@leoadaly.com