As part of the drive for a future of healthier, interior layouts, furniture and material innovation are coming to the fore. Dubai-based architect and lecturer Mohamed M Radwan is focusing on office furniture with the Qworkntine pod system, which keeps employees distant, while enabling firms to retain the same number of workers per square meter and bolstering their privacy.
Elsewhere, natural, recyclable and anti-microbial materials could help businesses to balance sustainability with employee safety. Packaging company Smurfit Kappa’s cardboard desk dividers remedy the potential increase in plastic use as a result of Covid-19, while Swiss furniture company Vitra believes leather and woods will gain traction. Its recent e-paper The Road Back to the Office, suggests ‘wood can be considered a good option. It’s warm natural material, comforting to touch, yet hygienic and easy to clean.’
Nicola Osborn, creative director at interior design consultants Basha Franklin, notes that some anti-microbial coatings on desks or hard surfaces may only be effectual for a short period. Instead, she suggests businesses consider timber and stone. ‘[They] have natural properties that are beneficial to air quality, acoustics, low-volatile organic compound (VOC) production, light refraction value and proven psychological comfort.’
Looking ahead, office wellness will also rely on ‘hygiene theatre’, a nascent term for visible, frequent cleaning. ‘Physical cleaning working in tandem with technological solutions such as the potential use of UV light technology can continue to progress the balance of interior materiality and agility of space to promote wellness,’ Osborn adds.
Technology is also playing a role in pandemic-proofing the office, enabling employees to work in a hands-free, augmented or phygital fashion. Beginning at the entrance to the office, VAMS SafeGuard uses facial recognition to provide hands-free entry to offices, bolstered in the wake of Covid-19 to offer discrete and contactless temperature scanning on arrival. Its mask compliance function, meanwhile, ensures entry is only granted to those observing safe workplace practices.
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