Designing & Building a Post-COVID-19 Workplace


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By: Earl G. Geertgens III

Social distancing may feel surreal in the beginning—coworkers avoiding physical contact, people separated by partitions, everyone wearing masks. It might even seem a little lonely with a lot of our coworkers still forced to work at home as organizations ramp up operations, allowing people to return to work in phases. Nonetheless, over time, we'll get used to a new "normal" as novel ways of working emerge.

While there is a lot of theorizing about what constitutes "normal" going forward, we do know that the global coronavirus pandemic is changing the workplace as we know it forever. The golden opportunity forward is to redesign and build offices even better than they were before the COVID-19 plight.

As the United States and other countries steadily begin to reawaken and attempt to put this nightmare created by the COVID-19 pandemic behind them, organizations must take operational measures needed to foster effective health and safety practices. This begins with designing a workplace for a post-COVID-19 era. 

In a survey of 67,000 clients, 2,500 multi-industry work-from-home respondents, and 325+ roundtable and one-on-one discussions, Gensler concludes strategists need to take an incremental approach to reopening offices. The first step must focus on health and safety, which is smart because most buildings, even hospitals, were not designed for infection control.

Reevaluating the Workplace

While people are sheltered in place and working from home, analyzing how they're coping could help shape remote work programs in the future. The data can be collected through interviews, virtual focus groups, surveys, or other types of ethnographic studies. Collecting this data while people are still working from home is a critical step in being able to effectively design and build in the post-COVID-19 era.

Prepare for the New Mindset

In these extraordinary times, imaginative and innovative solutions are the only things that will bring our world back to some normalcy. Feelings of comfort, safety, and support have long been sought after by both employers and employees. 

Nonetheless, COVID-19 has made it essential to set in place proactive policies to address pathogenic transmission. Retro-commissioning spaces to build restorative workplaces is no longer hype—it's a necessity. Events like the coronavirus pandemic make future-proofing commercial buildings more vital than ever.

Identify and Prepare for Essential Personnel

Working from home recently garnered a lot of media attention. Nevertheless, the topic of expanding work-from-home policies have been discussed for quite some time. As some experts predicted, significant disruption to the traditional workforce through some, making serious moves towards permanently instituting remote work policies. 

While many employees may continue working from home after COVID-19, others can’t due to the nature of their work or for security reasons. This poses a new challenge for architects and building owners. Create flexible work environments that can adapt to not only technology changes but also to reconfigure office layouts to meet safety requirements for on-site employees.

Planning for the Near and Long-Term

As employees try to adjust to social distancing in the workplace, organizations can begin to bring about changes to reshape the workplace in a way that feels more natural. As experts grasp how COVID-19 behaves, organizations will have better ideas as to how they should plan for the near-term.

As travel will most likely be restricted for a while, employers need to provide better telecommunication options. Some organizations will continue to minimize workplace density by instituting work-from-home policies, while others may redistribute their real estate in new and innovative ways.

Reorganize Flex Spaces

For organizations planning to spread out their desk arrangements, expect to cut your floor capacity in half. Thus, it makes sense to temporarily transform spaces like breakout spaces, learning labs, and conference rooms into dedicated seating sections. This should allow for adequate social distancing while increasing the number of employees capable of working on-site. 

Forward-Thinking Workplaces Post COVID-19 

In a way, the COVID-19 crisis has shown the importance of being forward-thinking in how organizations must design their workplaces. Due to many changes that take place in order to keep everyone safe, office spaces need to be reorganized.


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