How Is Office Design Affected by the Pandemic?

Posted by Brandon Koepnick on December 7, 2020

Unquestionably, the pandemic has changed lives in many ways. Some of it is temporary. Some of it is permanent. Office design is one of those that will change due to the pandemic. Architecture firm Leo A. Daly verifies this in its new research report titled "The Future of the Workplace."

COVID-19 has forced many companies to switch to remote working. As a result, they have discovered it is possible to accomplish work without being in the office. Still, they may have plans to return to the office if they have not already started.

Companies are asking themselves hard questions. What will it take to bring employees back safely? What changes will they need to make to their office typologies and configurations? What does this mean for the office design industry? The report looks to answer these questions and more.

One thing is for sure. The office will evolve, but it will not go away. Employees still value the social connection and collaboration that happens in an office. Moreover, the workplace sets the foundation of the company's brand and culture.

What a New Office Building in Dallas Is Doing

A D Magazine article by Bill Brokaw looks at an office building known as Victory Commons One. What makes the building special is that it will be one of the first buildings to be completed after the advent of COVID-19.

The architects have redesigned the office to include an upgraded HVAC system. It features an ultraviolet air purification solution to improve air quality. The way it achieves this is by removing indoor pollutants like mold, bacteria, and viruses. They've also incorporated individual passenger elevator units into the design.

Another office building in Plano, Texas, is being retrofitted to improve the health quality of the building. The Dallas Morning News reports the plan is to install touchless elevators, automatic doors, and clean air. The building is designed for small tenants as the offices range from 2,000 to 5,000 square feet.

Redesigning Office Spaces

NPR's "Redesigning the Office for the Next 100-Year Flu (Yes, It's Coming)" describes how office spaces have been designed to withstand floods. Now, it's time for designers to work on designing spaces for the 100-year flu. It could be another pandemic, epidemic, or severe flu season. Regardless of the potential illness, now is the best opportunity to design for that possibility.

Here are seven ways office design will evolve because of the pandemic.

1. Redesigning windows

The article interviews a handful of experts on the approach to take. One of the biggest problems is the spreading of the virus indoors. Outdoor events tend to have fewer spreading incidents than those that take place indoors. Improving indoor circulation requires boosting the volume of outside air that enters the building. It can be as simple as opening a window.

Unfortunately, most buildings don't have openable windows. It’s not just for safety reasons. It creates a vacuum to ensure the building is energy efficient. So, how can architects design buildings to bring in outdoor ventilation without increasing energy consumption?

Designers can look to Europe for an idea. Their windows have a "mechanical heat-exchange system concealed inside the sill." It can warm or cool outside air as it enters the building.

However, there are days when the outdoor air quality can be worse than indoors. For example, the California fires are polluting the air. The solution needs to be flexible to block outdoor air during such times.

2. Adding more handwashing stations

One thing people have been doing for decades is washing their hands. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says handwashing is one of the most effective ways to prevent spreading anything, remove germs, and reduce the chances of getting sick. That activity will never go away.

To wash their hands, most people head to the bathroom or the kitchen if there is one. These are not always in a convenient location. A building designed to minimize spread will add hand-washing stations and hand sanitizer dispensers in high-traffic areas.

3. Implementing more contactless technology

Many buildings contain contactless technology. These include self-flushing toilets, automatic handwashing stations, and touchless lighting switches. Designers will be incorporating more of these contactless technologies into office buildings.

Other things to consider are contactless entries. Not just at the front entrance, but also to the bathrooms and other areas of the building. Some buildings have a walkway to the bathroom where people can enter and curve around into the bathroom. This prevents outsiders from seeing inside and it eliminates the need for doors.

An access control system works well for contactless entry. It can be used at the front entrance and other building entrances. The useful thing about this technology is that it can be used to control access anywhere in the building. There will be no need for keys or rekeying locks.

4. Reconfiguring office spaces

As companies have been forced to allow their employees to work from home, they're discovering that remote working works. However, not all of them will switch to remote working, at least not full time. Some may do a hybrid model. In this model, employees go to the office a few days a week.

In other cases, the company may request half of the employees come in on certain days and the other half will do the other days. This way there are fewer people in the building.

Obviously, it would require figuring out how to do this to optimize in-person collaboration. For instance, if the finance department does not work with the marketing department, they could alternate in-office days. The hybrid approach would invite more collaborative spaces with safety in mind.

5. Bringing in natural light

One of the common themes in designing for the future is biophilic design. This design optimizes humans' interactions with nature. Apparently, it can help productivity as well as physical health and well-being. Biophilic design incorporates natural construction materials.

Architects can craft the building to maximize natural light in all parts of the building and on every floor. Other components of biophilic design include a view and a way to connect to the outdoors without leaving the building. One high school had an outdoor garden that students could see as they walked down any one of the four walkways surrounding it.

6. Designing for Flexibility

Many hotels have a partition between meeting rooms and ballrooms. When the partition is open, it merges the two rooms to support a larger crowd at big events. A flexible office infrastructure can use things like lightweight, movable dividers instead of fixed cubicles.

The Leo A. Daly report says workspaces can be adapted based on the number of workers on-site. It refers to it as dynamic zoning. The zones could be changed multiple times in a single day. Another thing for architects to plan for is density. They can look at how people move around the building. In doing this, the design can be adapted to minimize density throughout the office.

Instead of one large office, companies may invest in smaller spaces in multiple locations. The benefit includes reduced commuting time while still offering a place to collaborate in person.

7. Using Video Surveillance Technology

Remote video surveillance enhances safety, productivity, and security. It makes it possible to monitor the office building safely and remotely. Video surveillance puts eyes on the entire property.

It's all too easy to have pandemic fatigue. People forget to do things that keep them safe. Relying on artificial and human intelligence, cameras can watch for lapses in safety, social distancing, property cleaning, and the use of handwashing stations. If every employee and visitor undergo a temperature check, the cameras can ensure this happens daily.

Do you have office security guards or are you thinking about it? You won't need them with remote video surveillance. The entire system including the equipment and monitoring costs up to 60 percent less than what it would cost to pay security guards and their benefits. Unlike security guards, video surveillance can watch multiple areas of the property simultaneously without adding another person on site.

In recent months, flooding, fires, and storms have affected many areas across the U.S. If your office building is in a locale that experiences severe weather or other natural disasters, ask about sensors for a video surveillance system. These can monitor for potential leaks from inclement weather a pipe freeze and alert someone right away.

Another big benefit of remote video surveillance is that it helps to deter crime. The sight of cameras can scare off some intruders. For those that don't frighten easily, the monitoring operator can issue a warning with the audio system. This deters some trespassers as well as helps prevent damage.

Video surveillance can save and store all recordings in the cloud for later review. This will be useful anytime you have a trespasser, lapses in safety, and liability issues. The footage can be used for investigations and lawsuits. The flexibility of video surveillance delivers a fast ROI for security because of all these benefits and more.

Case Study

Construction Drive shares a case study of a Chicago office building, which is one of the first to be designed for a pandemic. Architects have engineered the 12-story, 90,000-square-foot structure to maximize social distancing, touch-free operations, and sanitization of air and surfaces. The office design features 10,605-square-foot floor plates for flexible, custom planning options.

The Chicago building has Toe-To-Go (T2G), a hands-free elevator system. People can activate a request for the elevator with their feet. It also uses airPHX non-thermal, plasma technology. What this technology does is reduce cross-contamination risks and deliver cleaner air and work surfaces. Testing has shown this technology can reduce 90 to 99 percent of bacteria, viruses, and mold in the air and on surfaces.

An 8,000-square-foot garden park on the roof offers seating for breaks and small group meetings. It has an amphitheater-style seating space with a large-screen TV and connectivity for outdoor presentations, training, meetings, entertainment, and gatherings. All while keeping social distancing in mind.

The Future of Office Design

The pandemic has changed where and how employees work. Whether companies take a hybrid approach, one thing is for sure: Future offices will gain a new role in being the place for innovation and collaboration.

Other articles you may be interested in:

  • This is how crime affects commercial properties in the pandemic
  • How secure is your parking garage?
  • Do thermal cameras work for temperature screening?

If you'd like to learn more about video surveillance for safety and security, contact us

Posted in: Video Security Systems, Video Monitoring