3 thoughts on Covid-19 and its impact on workplace design

A lot has been said over the last weeks about the impact of Covid-19 on the design of our workspaces and for good reason.

Less has been said however, about the design of our civic buildings, schools, places of worship, plazas, sidewalks, shops, gyms, restaurants and of course, public transportation systems even though social distancing has as large an effect on them. Our office spaces aren't islands cut off from the complexity of the modern city. They are instead one stop among many in the every day lives of people who inhabit those cities.

Every one of those spaces and their connecting tissue have been impacted by the requirements for social distancing. For designers, the reason for this is clear. The world is designed around the average human's scale. Codified in things like building codes, zoning codes, ergonomic standards and industry best practices, the scale of the human being is central to the design of everything around us. A requirement for people to keep a larger-than-normal distance between them forces a core change to the 'design specification' of the world around us. As you would expect, a lot of things 'break' when you do this.

Here's one incredible example out of the UK:

We wanted to take the time to put together some notes that we find relevant today as well as some useful links. None of these yet form the basis for a comprehensive new workplace typology, but we do believe it begins to set a useful vector that we can test against. We do see many of the best practices designers use for cities, public spaces, commercial and residential real estate to change, but we only see the distancing requirements as a short term solution. Here are 3 overall topics that we are focused on this week:

1. Pre-vaccine and post-vaccine needs will be different

The return to the office is mired with uncertainty. The plan for businesses to get people back into their offices should be split into two categories: the 'pre' and the 'post' vaccine worlds.

Pre-Vaccine

This plan is driven by the time period between each communities' lifting of their 'stay at home' orders and whenever a proven vaccine has been produced and deployed at scale. It is difficult to know how long this will take but according to different organizations including the WHO it could be as short as 6 months and as long as 24 months. During this time, we expect most of the changes to the workplace to be operational in nature. Some changes will effect furniture and space use as well. We predict this relationship to flip in the 'Post-Vaccine' plan.

NOTE: the World Health Organization (WHO) has published a handy 'Getting your workplace ready for COVID-19' guide you can find here

Post-Vaccine

2. Adaptability is the new flexibility

For years now we've seen the trend toward flexible lease terms grow more and more. We see this trend being accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic. So much so, that we expect this to spread to the actual design of spaces popularizing cost effective and rapidly deployable 'construction-free' solutions at scale. Gone are the days where businesses will spend millions of dollars 'hard coding' a design solution that may very well become useless at any time. Adaptability then becomes a new trend, stacked on flexible lease terms that will allow for businesses to get exactly what they want, for only as long as they want it.

3. Work from home (WFH) may be a permanent new perk

Companies that have supported remote working have for years been subsidizing their remote employees' expenses at home in exchange for the savings they get for not having a physical office. 10 years ago, at my previous company CASE we had a monthly allowance for remote employees (about 40% of our workforce then) that would cover things like memberships at a co-working space, furniture for their home office, computer equipment or even increased internet speed costs. Admittedly, this was a fringe perk for a small consulting company in the technology and architecture sector. We are seeing this trend scale across many more traditional industries like banking, trading, law and others.

Here's a collection of thoughts on this topic as it continues to develop:

Have any thoughts or comments to add? Reach out to us.