Reworking the workplace

category - covid-19
category - society
category - workplace
sector - health & wellness
type - market focus
Market Focus
Inter-pandemic, the office is undergoing a reconceptualisation, from the systems and layout of the workspace, to materials and touchless technologies

As employers undertake assessments of the physical workplace and the changes required, they are reconsidering not only the purpose of the office but its interior features, materiality and how it can benefit those in attendance.

‘At the front of the mind of employers and business should be the wellbeing of their staff during and post-Covid-19,’ says Gifty Enright, a workplace wellbeing expert. ‘A healthy workforce is where competitive advantage will be during this pandemic.’

Safe environments

Like many high-touch indoor environments, offices are considered high-risk in terms of catching and spreading the Covid-19 virus, not to mention other illnesses. A recent investigation recently published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for example, reveals just how quickly the coronavirus can spread through a multi-storey office block where each floor has little interaction.

Elsewhere, The American Institute of Architects has released a free-to-access Re-occupancy Assessment Tool – a document that provides architects, businesses and civic leaders with a framework for returning to buildings and offices as they transition to being open for use. In response, drastic changes are being made to how office interiors are formatted in order to reduce the spread of germs and viruses, and rebuild trust between workers and businesses as they return to physical environments.

‘It’s all about creating an environment where people feel confident and secure,’ says Andrew Phipps, global futurist at real estate services firm Cushman & Wakefield. Its 6 Feet Office model is a six-element implementation plan to encourage a virus-safe working environment, from visually displayed and unique routing for each office for safer flows through buildings, to having a six-feet workstation that’s adapted and fully equipped to allow people to work safely.

Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are also coming under scrutiny amid concerns about the airborne spread of viruses. Already seen in retail stores, systems such as AirSteril are being used to prevent infection. ‘In particular, the critical importance of the ventilation system, while delivering an [invisible] outcome, is one of the first elements that has to be reviewed before opening up the doors to occupiers,’ Phipps adds.

Published by:

22 March 2021

Author: Lara Piras and Kathryn Bishop

Image: Qworkntine Pods, Dubai

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6 Feet Office by Cushman & Wakefield

Wellness workspaces

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.

Virtual HQs

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.

‘Wood is a warm natural material, comforting to touch, yet hygienic’
Road Back to the Office Report – Vitra
 
 

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