The onset of COVID-19 brought a lot of uncertainty. Places and routines that we experienced every day turned upside down, and employee safety became the number one concern.
For years, we have worked with clients to design spaces that impact and influence corporate culture. Decisions, like cubicles or open concept and how many and what kind of collaboration spaces, were made around the corporate culture, driving our designs to meet our clients’ goals going forward.
Despite the uncertainty of what the future holds, we still have those same conversations with our clients, just with a new lens of improved employee health and safety while maintaining flexibility.
Most recently, we worked with Safety National to determine how their office functions during COVID-19 and how that changes or remains the same post-COVID. In late 2008, we completed Safety National’s new headquarters, and in 2018 we were asked to expand their headquarters with a new building that is attached to the original through a connection lobby.
We started meeting with Safety National in March of 2020 to discuss how to balance employee safety and comfort in the short term without sacrificing culture and employee relationships in the long term.
Based on our conversations with Safety National and other corporate clients, we predict that for the foreseeable future these trends will continue to be a priority for offices across the nation.
TOGETHER, BUT SEPARATE
- Employers want their employees to feel safe in their workspace, which right now translates to giving each employee their own space. With some of our current clients, we added glass partitions at the reception desks and to the cubicle walls for additional separation.
- The glass allows employees to see each other and interact while providing another layer of protection. Depending on the corporate culture, some plan to remove the glass later while others are keeping it as a permanent fixture.
- Employees are demanding a touchless environment, which has accelerated the timeline for the integration of modern devices that minimize contact with surfaces. We have seen everything from motion-detecting light sensors to doors that open with a wave of a hand. Although some of these products were already being incorporated into new construction, we are seeing an increase in retrofitting existing buildings to include these features.
- Cleanability is at the center of furniture discussions. How easily can the fabric on the chairs be cleaned? Plastic chairs are not typically desirable for long periods of time, but they are the easiest to sanitize, so how do we balance comfort with safety? Our solution has been to use more variety of materials and consider more criteria before our selection. We have found that leather or antimicrobial materials successfully balance comfort and sanitization.
- At Safety National, a tag system was created for each of their conference rooms to ensure the proper spaces were being cleaned. The tag is red on one side and green on the other. Once an employee uses the room, they switch the tag to red so other employees do not use the space until it has been cleaned and switched back to green.
- We are seeing an increase in touchless water bottle fillers because water fountains are currently required under code but are being blocked off from use.
- We are also integrating more technology and web cameras throughout the offices, conference rooms, and teaming areas to support the large volume of employees that are working from home or remote offices. This allows collaboration to continue within the teams without everyone being physically in the same office.
- Through conversations with our MEP engineering partners, we have determined alternate HVAC solutions to protect our clients and their employees. Ultraviolet light systems and ion-charged systems in the forced air ductwork are two solutions we have seen to substantially minimize airborne pollutant and germs.
- Other solutions we see coming include more natural light to brighten and open spaces. We foresee more open space in offices that will allow employees to maintain distance while avoiding physical barriers that affect company culture.
”For years, we have worked with clients to design spaces that impact and influence corporate culture. Despite the uncertainty of what the future holds, we still have those same conversations with our clients, just with a new lens of improved employee health and safety while maintaining flexibility.
As COVID-19 has developed, we continue to have conversations with our commercial clients to figure out how to best keep their work environment safe while still matching their culture. We regularly monitor health and safety recommendations to make sure our designs are compliant and keep employees as safe as possible.