The Office: 2020 Edition

Hooray - the world is slowly starting to re-open!!! Restaurants are pivoting from their months staying afloat on delivery and take-out. Retail is transitioning to appointment-only or reduced guest shopping experiences. And healthcare is rescheduling elective procedures and non-essential appointments,

Offices, on the other hand, remain fairly empty.

Back in mid-March, much of the US was herded indoors and cries of “Stay at home” and “Safe at home” were heard from every mountain and valley. Many industries were brought to a halt as employers were forced to either quickly adapt to new ways of working, or adjust their staff accordingly, reshaping what the entire world calls the workplace. The daily activity of “heading to the office” has become more of an abstract idea than a physical space.

With these changing times, industries have been embracing the new challenges of working from home, seamlessly incorporating digital technologies in their day-to-day and questioning the need for busy and expensive downtown offices. Approximately 1 in 4 new jobs listed in June do not include a location, indicating the job can be done remotely. This statistic is up drastically from January where it hovered around 1 in 10 positions on average. These recent trends were always the way of the future but have been accelerated due to the pandemic.

DESIGN LIMITATIONS + CHALLENGES

As offices begin re-opening, employers are faced with new sets of challenges to ensure that they can keep their staff safe. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests changing many operations, functions, and spacial layouts to allow for social distancing. Workplaces that were once a home-away-from-home with residential-like lounges, informal conference rooms, communal snacks, and limitless supplies of coffee are urged to impose restrictions that minimize contact and encourage individual work zones.

The CDC broadcasted a list of recommendations inside the office including mandatory temperature and symptom checks; behavior questionnaires; prohibiting common area spaces and seating; mandating singular paths of travel to prevent people from crossing paths; placing desks at minimum six feet apart and when that is not possible, revisiting the Mad Men style office; and adding plastic shields around desks to avoid the spread of disease, etc.

As spatial designers, we may see these precautions as taking several steps backwards. The progress we have made in developing environments for teams to collaborate and brainstorm, and present their best foot forward to clients, partners, and team members are taking the back burner as employee safety must be the priority. Offices are drastically shifting to being geared towards the individual, as opposed to the team. The question is, how do we embrace this? RODE has been helping clients strategize a plan for their office that adheres to the necessary guidelines for health and safety, while still providing a comfortable atmosphere for staff.

Reconfigure: Existing offices can look to retrofit current workstations to re-orient workers away from each other, create distance between workstations, and add dividers.

Re-purpose: Limiting the use of communal spaces and potentially reworking these areas for workstation

overflow will reduce the density in the working zones.

Accommodate: Adapt private offices and conference rooms to accommodate workers and reduce the

amount in an open floor plan.

Integrate: Implement various technologies such as video conferencing to allow for more telecommuting

and work-from-elsewhere set ups, upgrade video conferencing abilities to allow more meetings to take place virtually versus in-person gatherings.

Prioritize: Make health and safety a major with better heating and cooling systems with higher levels of

filtration and touch-less technologies wherever possible. Integrate more hygiene stations that encourage handwashing and disinfecting.

The work space can, and will, evolve to address all the goodness that 2020 has thrown our way. The main lesson that current and future offices need to take away from this is how important it is to design for flexibility, adaptability, and above all, safety.

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