Design

How to Redesign Offices in a Post Covid-19 World

September 16, 2021

What’s in this Blog?

  1. Rethinking workplace design post Covid-19
  2. Design elements of change for Covid-compliant offices
  3. Role of generative design in encouraging design exploration

Globally, the pandemic brought about a tectonic shift in the way offices and office goers operated. Offices closed down abruptly with no resuming date in sight. Co-working spaces started fading and in some cases shut up shop. The lines between office and home blurred. We all had to get used to balancing Zoom calls with childcare; taking online interviews while checking out online cooking tips and dishing out new ideas on Skype calls while doing dishes at home.

But now, as we all gradually gear up to return to some signs of normalcy, this need for balance will be key again. The new workplace will be all about balance between safety and collaboration; between hygiene and productivity and between slowing down while progressing rapidly towards our goals. And, an important role here will be played by the way office spaces will be redesigned.

Rethinking workplace design post Covid-19

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the COVID-19 virus spreads primarily when someone who has COVID-19 (symptomatic or asymptomatic) coughs or exhales and they release droplets of infected fluid. Most of these droplets fall on nearby surfaces and objects – such as desks, tables or telephones. People could catch COVID-19 by touching contaminated surfaces or objects – and then touching their eyes, nose or mouth. If they are standing within one meter of a person with COVID-19, they can catch it by breathing in droplets coughed out or exhaled by them. Studies have indicated that the virus can spread more quickly in poorly ventilated enclosed spaces.

The challenge then, for architects and interior designers lies in redesigning or transforming existing buildings and workspaces to make them pandemic-proof. Here, three aspects will define design decisions: physical proximity and density, spatial relationship of people and objects, and air circulation.

Architects and interior designers need to redesign with the goal of protecting employees from the current pandemic as well as preparing the space to tackle any infections that could manifest in the future. So, the task at hand is to imagine offices of 2030 where people can be safe on the job, while also creating intelligent options to integrate remote workers. Let’s take a look at what kind of changes in office space planning will make an impact.

Design elements of change for Covid-compliant offices

1. Workstations

Employees are waiting to come back to the office to collaborate better than what they can do remotely and renewing their creative energies. While it might be easy to consider designing private pods instead of an open floor plan, this could defeat the purpose of collaboration that employees have been missing. If the pandemic ends, it could also seem like a short-term fix that will have to be relooked at again in a few months.

So, long-term solutions can be found by creating effective segregations between workstations with partitions/screens/walls, increasing the space between seating arrangement, removing shared storage and shared whiteboards and reducing any unnecessary clutter. Changing the direction of workstations so that all face in one direction and employees don’t exhale into each other’s face would be key. Reconsidering individual tables with wheels which are distant yet not cut off from each other might also work. Including practical options like private lockers with touchless technology for employees can be a good option.

Creating same direction workstations.
Image credit: Girl photo created by tirachardz – www.freepik.com

2. Air Ventilation

Ensuring natural ventilation by redoing windows that can be kept open can increase the rate of ventilation in an office space by natural ways, thus avoiding recirculation of stale air. As per WHO, upgrading to systems like heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) with appropriate filtration, which is well-maintained can help in maintaining the risk of transmission.

Usage of a portable air purifier system with high-efficiency particulate arresting (HEPA filter) is also known to be effective in trapping particles as small as .01 micron in diameter. Considering aspects like average occupancy rate and size of the room will help in deciding the kind of system to use. For newly constructed buildings, radiant panels along with single pass fresh air from under floor ventilation can be considered to stop recirculation of air, while maintaining a comfortable temperature for the human body.

Did You Know? Some airplanes have cabin air filtration systems equipped with HEPA filters which can remove viruses and germs quickly, minimizing the duration of the exposure to any potential infectious materials produced by a cough or sneeze.**

**Source: WHO

3. Antimicrobial Surfaces

There will be a preference for using natural antimicrobial surfaces in workplace design like some woods and natural stones. Copper, bronze and brass are also inherently antimicrobial, and some fittings of these materials could help. Antimicrobial coatings for door knobs, paints and walls are available in the market but the question remains on how much chemical usage does one want to include in the space.

4. Contactless Design & Technology

From automated doors, automated lighting, automated temperature control, no-contact attendance systems to touchless technology for finding rooms and for housekeeping, office design and technology will have to be rethought to reduce touching of surfaces. Also, using cloud-based software solutions, to encourage an effective balance of remote and physical working can help.

5. Meeting Rooms

Meeting room design could undergo a change with minimal seating arrangement to reduce density and increase proximity. Meeting rooms should also be equipped with the latest technology to support remote participants through video conferencing, thus reducing face-to-face interactions. If there is provision to convert an open air space like terraces or lounges into a meeting point, it is a good option to consider. Equipping such open spaces with the required equipment and power sources will require thinking and exploration of design.

Redesigning meeting spaces post Covid
Redesigning meeting spaces that are Covid compliant will be key.
Image credit: Computer photo created by rawpixel.com – www.freepik.com

6. Community Areas

Water coolers and cafeterias are quite likely to see more density as one of the things that employees missed most during the pandemic was socialising with their co-workers. But, with measures like fixed entry ways and exit ways, reduced seating, foot operated water dispensers and touchless food dispensers, this can be tackled. Smaller and multiple tables instead of fewer, large community tables can be considered.

7. Washroom Design

Washroom design is what might see a huge overhaul. Using automatic doors to avoid touching of door knobs, sensor based appliances, sanitizer sprays, self-disinfecting systems will come into play for effective protection. Ultraviolet germicidal irradiation is also a known disinfection method and can be done at night to reduce the spread of infection. Ensuring that the toilet exhaust fan air does not recirculate in another occupied area would be instrumental in curbing transmission.

8. Furniture & Furnishings

Furniture arrangement to increase distance and reduce face-to-face interactions will play a key role in the design. Using a combination of static furniture and flexible furniture will help achieve safe collaboration. Minimising or eliminating the use of carpets and rugs where dust can accumulate will be important.

9. Signages

With most employees newly coming back to work, they will expect to be guided on what to do to stay Covid-compliant. The use of signages in the office design – be it a ‘Walk only this Way’ board or an ‘Avoid Standing Here’ signage can make employees feel more sure about what has to be done.

Role of generative design in encouraging design exploration

Designing a Covid-compliant workspace is a highly iterative process. With architects and interior designers having to quickly generate multiple design alternatives and presentation-ready models to explore different solutions, using an intelligent generative design tool can be a great, automated solution. It can save you weeks of time and help you reach design decisions faster.

Auto populating office interiors is easy on Snaptrude
Auto populating interiors can save architects and interior designers time.
Image credit: Building vector created by macrovector – www.freepik.com

For instance, using the 3D BIM tool, Snaptrude can help you automatically populate your workstations, meeting rooms, cabins and cafeteria with furniture once it’s labelled. It also enables a quick study of a floorplate’s capacity across various design options. You can swap the default presets for larger workstations or increase the spacing between tables and the layout is automatically re-configured. What’s more, you can add elegantly designed 3D components from the Snaptrude library that allow your model to be presentation-ready as soon as the floor plan is completed.

Experience the power of generative design to experiment with your design like never before, especially to create Covid-compliant spaces.


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