What An Effective Post Covid-19 Workplace Looks Like
Make sure your office is Covid-proof when you go back to work by following these workplace design solutions
We have now exiting the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) and easing into a more lenient general community quarantine (GCQ). And as we enter the “new normal” of our post Covid-19 times, where we’re expected to work and perform at business as usual standards—while still battling the health risks that have yet to be fully mitigated. But workplace interactions and experiences have now changed—at least until a vaccine for the virus is completed.
Since we can’t predict what the long-term future looks like, the next best thing to do is to create workplaces that would help employees feel safe and comfortable as they work now.
But what do these post-Covid workplaces look like?
Office furniture distributors Herman Miller and Interior Investments teamed up to sponsor a design competition to encourage designers to try and envision the workings of a Covid-proof office. Titled the Interior Investments "Covignette" Design Competition, different groups tried their hand at creating a “safe, fun workplace design that brings comfort and confidence to people when returning to work.”
Well, the results are in and Epstein's Interiors, a design and construction company based in Chicago, Illinois won. Here’s a look at their winning design for a post-Covid work environment, and some tips on how to apply it in your own workplace.
Cubicle design and arrangement is key in designing a Covid-proof office since it’s where employees spend most of their time in. The key idea when curating and spacing furniture is that there should be an organic pattern so there are several entry and movement points for both employees and visitors.
Modern office designs have started to make do without cubicle barriers to create a more “open space” feeling, however, bringing back these barriers to isolate workstations is key to give the employee a sense of protection from those surrounding him or her.
Traditional conference rooms would usually have one long table that everyone shares to encourage a collaboration mindset. However, in the new normal set-up, it’s better to lessen shared contact between employees so opt for individual seating options. To simulate the conference environment, the seats are arranged in a circle so the participants can still collaborate while maintaining social distance.
Epstein also suggests this brilliant use of antibacterial treated, semi-transparent curtains that act as a protection from other people. While providing a cover between people, the curtains are light enough so participants can still converse with and see each other through it.
There are two things to consider in a post-Covid lounge: limiting touch surfaces and discouraging communal gathering. With this in mind, lounges should have sparse and separated seating areas to discourage loitering, and create minimal chokepoints and wide open areas.
Eliminating touch points throughout the office is also key since the virus can linger on surfaces. To do this, equip doors with motion sensors so they slide open without the need to touch them, opt for contactless keycards instead of biometrics for secure areas, and enable areas and devices such as lights and presentations panels to be controllable by voice activation or the use of the employees’ personal device.
Common areas like pantries
Cafeterias and pantries are hotspots for the virus to proliferate. This is because more people tend to congregate in smaller pantries at the same time. To address this, utilize surfaces with anti-bacterial properties and add foot-operated cabinets and trash bins. If possible, create a bigger pantry area with more room for foot traffic to encourage social distancing.
Sanitation and disinfection
Epstein did not cover a sanitation area in their design, but having a hand-washing and sanitation infrastructure is essential in every building that’s returning to operational levels.
When creating a sanitation station, make sure to position it strategically at the first point of contact in the workplace. If this is not possible on an infrastructure level, a workaround could be installing several antibacterial stations located at each door or junction so employees can use it before and after touching door handles or common areas.
It’s also better to use sensor-based faucets and trash bins in both sanitation areas and comfort rooms. Instead of using hand dryers, which have been notorious for contamination and spreading bacteria, make paper towels more available and accessible.
The importance of design
While designing for a Covid-proof workplace generally deals with a lot of functional requirements based on hygiene and social distancing measures, designers must also take into consideration the mental health challenges that come with working in time of Covid-19. The fear of leaving the safety of their homes and exposure to pathogens in public spaces impact the employee now more than ever. This is why lighting, colors, the utilization of space, overall design, and even the smell of the workplace are important to give attention to, to make sure that each employee feels safe and motivated when they come back to work.