With lockdowns ending in several countries, people are eager to get back to their desk space and resume the face-to-face contact they have been missing for so long. In a recent press release, World Health Organisation has warned us that COVID-19 might never be permanently eradicated from the Earth. It will persist for years to come. In a situation such as this, business is going to look different. However, office space planning is going under tremendous scrutiny. Work culture will no longer be the same. So how then can we rapidly adapt to the changes brought about?

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In the year 1939, Frank Lloyd Wright designed what is considered the first open-plan office – the Johnson Wax offices. He was inspired by “organic architecture,” a philosophy based on the harmony between nature and built spaces. He integrated plenty of sunlight from the roof structure. There was enough segregation between people to make them feel comfortable and spaces that enhanced communication.

Fast-forward 80 years, the entire idea of open-plan offices has changed. It has now become an excuse for companies to cram employees in smaller spaces to save resources and space. In a study published by South Korea‘s Centre for Disease Control, it was observed that the design was such that the virus spread like wildfire. On an office floor that occupied 216 employees, 94 tested positive. Researchers believe that a high density of people working in the building was the primary catalyst for the spread. Many offices are facing this common problem right now.

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Considering the current scenario, offices could look at redesigning the spaces based on two factors –

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Image Sources: Floor plan of the 11th floor of building X, site of a coronavirus disease outbreak, Seoul, South Korea, 2020. Blue colouring indicates the seating places of persons with confirmed cases. ©Park and others, emerging infectious diseases www.nc.cdc.gov

Short Term Solutions And Long-Term Solutions.

The short-term solutions could include modifications that could be brought about with immediate effect. Staggered work timings could compel employees to work at 30% strength while maintaining plenty of distance between each other.

Change in circulation patterns, such as introducing one-way traffic in larger open spaces such as corridors and lifts, can reduce direct contact between employees.

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Offices could look at placing hand wash and sanitizing pods regular intervals in the offices. Small additions like these could bring the aspect of hygiene to the forefront.

Retrofitting existing desks and furniture with equipment such as temporary sneeze guards and temperature monitoring devices can help management keep a check on the health of employees at all times.

With meticulous planning in the implementation of Long-term solutions, one has to keep in mind the employees’ physical and psychological well-being.

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Personal workspaces with enough floor area could be assigned to each employee. This could also help boost productivity among the workforce by providing them with spaces where they can concentrate and focus on the Work better.

Automation such as voice-activated elevators, sensor-based lights, and touchless water taps could be used. This will prevent employees from coming in direct contact with surfaces that could potentially carry the virus and germs.

Implementing cleaner air circulation and ventilation methods will help keep the office environment sterile and safe to use

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Denser materials with anti-microbial properties could be used as an alternative building material. These materials will help reduce the risk of maintenance and can be disinfected quickly.

Satellite Work Pods

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Image Sources: A prototype office of international real estate company Cushman and Wakefield with a workplace design concept using the six feet rule of the coronavirus disease social distancing to keep areas around desks empty is seen in Amsterdam ©www.in.reuters.com

With extensive use of the internet and online database among offices, the most significant shift in the way they function could come from the introduction of satellite workstations. As highlighted in the past few months, many companies have proved that they could shift their entire work system online without losing productivity. More executives now see Work from home culture as a viable option. Companies could expand their base without investing in ramping up the office infrastructure.

Work from home culture will indirectly influence the way we look at commute in the city network. With lesser people traveling from one part of the city to the other, the number of vehicles on the roads will reduce dramatically. This, in turn, will reduce the amount of pollution caused by the massive movement of people. In recent times, we have all tasted clean air. We would not want to go back to the days when the air quality index nearly killed us.

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We can agree that in the past few months, the definition of living has changed to the extent where survival has become our top priority. Although we crave human connection, there is a constant fear of being around people. Even if the COVID-19 vaccine becomes available, the experience of living through a pandemic will have a long-lasting impact on the way we look at our workspaces and work culture. As we keep innovating, the focus on health and hygiene may lead to design changes that will offer employees a safer and flexible environment.

Author

Poojitha Yathiraj is a young architect who loves to unearth stories hidden in the built fabric and weave them through literature. With an inclination to collocate art and science, she believes that architecture is more than mere walls and hopes to create meaningful spaces, both through words and bricks.

1 Comment

  1. Rameshchandra Reply

    Very informative and a nice article…All the very best

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