The New Design Paradigm for The Office
As the constellation of beliefs, rules and knowledge surrounding Corporate Environments is being challenged due to the current worldwide impact of Covid-19, we as Design Professionals are here to provide not just a particular solution but rather an evolution of the underlying system of ideas that cause solutions to be perceived as “normal” and “obvious”.
A New Reality
Our understanding of personal space and cultural norms has seen quite the overhaul in recent months due to the Global Pandemic. Many businesses have had to react and adapt rapidly to accommodate the needs of social distancing, as health, safety, and well-being has been thrust into the forefront.
As design professionals, our common goal pre and post global changes, is to create flexible environments that can evolve with the times. Our new reality is educating that Real Estate itself need not be so reactionary. We can safely say that the workplace is not disappearing, just adapting.
While the Cayman Islands is fortunate to have a “new normal” that is only slightly dissimilar to the way things were pre-pandemic, we still must establish that we will not forever be in our safety bubble. As airports begin to reopen, there are critical elements of design in both existing and future Office environments that will need to be addressed to encourage Healthy Interiors as an integral piece of the Design Process.
Due to the rising costs of real estate over the past decade, we have witnessed the global shift in Corporate environments with private offices reducing in size, until they were almost non-existent. At present and due to health and safety, the required adaptation spatially is reversed, however the costs of real estate are still on the upward trend. How do we as Design Professionals plan to address this added challenge?
Trending applications show office population as a starting point. Since we have now established that remote and virtual workspaces can indeed work. By alternating workdays in conjunction with interweaving and encouraging remote work, we can assist with managing the occupancies within an enclosed environment. With alternate workdays, staff can still reap the benefits of the Corporate Environment culture and maintain a sense of place that is so desired.
Proven methods to maintain the suggested 6-foot diameter of social distancing include staggered Open Office, Boardroom and Cafe seating, screened barriers between desks where face-to-face must occur, limiting occupancy within any shared spaces and providing visual cues as an aid to reduce physical contact.
Office protocols and physical space will need to continue adapting to be more fluid and flexible, to prioritize Health and Safety in the office environment.
Surfaces are now being cleaned more repetitiously and are potentially being exposed too much stronger cleaning agents. As before, it is important to understand the suitability of the cleaning agents used, to ensure the quality of the material is not compromised and wear and tear is not expedited.
Going forward, surface materials with anti-microbial properties will likely be more accessible and the norm vs. being an added feature or reserved mainly for Healthcare design. Consideration into the cleanability of materials and standards within Commercial Environments will likely remain more stringent than ever before.
Technology has been our saving grace and will continue to be a major player in creating a safer and more effective workplace environment. Aside from keeping the workforce connected, no matter the location, we will see a surge in hands-free options on the market for communal and frequently touched surfaces such as door handles, light switches, washroom faucets and fixtures, even UV disinfection. While hands-free is not a new concept either, we do anticipate that it will be the requirement rather than an upgrade when budget allows.
Quite possibly the single most important factor in an occupant’s health and comfort is Indoor Air Quality, as well as convenient access to Exterior spaces for fresh air. Air filtration and ventilation systems should be adapted to bring in more outdoor air to clean and replace contaminated air.
Given that occupants generally have limited control over the indoor environment in a Commercial space, the application and maintenance of air purifying indoor plants can add a sense of comfort to occupants both physically and mentally.
Supporting Mental Well Being
As we are on the topic, we cannot overlook how important the physical work environment and office culture is with supporting overall Mental Health and Well-being.
Implementing safety measures and educating the workforce of exactly what measures have been taken and applied, will encourage the feeling of safety, and demonstrate that they are the priority in their place of work.
By providing the tools and flexibility that is necessary for a functional and safe working environment, a greater sense of wellbeing can be created. This in turn promotes happiness and ultimately an increase in productivity.
Successful companies exist because of the success of the people within them. It is without a doubt a smart business decision to prioritize the workforce so companies can create and maintain resiliency.
As Design Professionals, we prioritize the health safety and welfare of the public. We have unique skills grounded in critical thinking and the ability to imagine new futures. By utilizing the skills and abilities afforded us, we intuitively problem solve to provide the most effective solutions for our clients. This in turn, allows our clients access to the very best design solutions, encouraging adaptation when needed.
We appreciate that we are being called to the task to support and provide clients with methods to adapt once more. With every crisis comes opportunity to address the urgent issues of our time and the ability to improve the quality of our lives for years to come.
By Cilicia DaCosta