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How Covid-19 Could Change Office Design
As millions of Brits anticipate a long awaited return to the office at some point in 2021, the question on everyone's lips is how are things going to change?
The truth is that office spaces nationwide will have to be adapted to the new and ever evolving reality of Covid-19, which could entail a great deal of changes. Office workstations will need to be adapted to facilitate social distancing, as will overall office layouts. Recently, American real estate company Cushman and Wakefield designed an office in which employees can consistently remain at least six feet apart, as per the common Covid-19 recommendations. Such innovation could well set the trend and herald a new office working reality. Read on then for some informed speculation on just how Covid-19 could change the office workplace.
The reality of Covid-19 mandates keeping a distance from others, one of the simplest but most effective ways of limiting the spread of the virus. What this means for office workstations is that the decades-long trend of shrinking desks could be due an abrupt reversal. Office desks have in general shrank from being on average around two square metres to closer to one. With large desks being a pretty effective way for workers to keep a distance, we could be about to see desk sizes going the other way again. Yet with larger desks comes, obviously enough, a larger surface area to be kept clean. There are many ways this can be done, but whatever the ultimate solution is it will probably involve more hand sanitiser within easy reach of office workers. Some more innovative solutions might resemble Cushman and Wakefield’s idea of having workers take a paper mat, which can be disposed of at the end of the day, to their desks.
Signs can of course influence our behaviour, but we can probably expect some more immediate, physical, Covid-19-preventative measures in our offices. The transparent screen, designed to physically block the transmission of Coronavirus, is already a familiar sight in those supermarkets and shops that have been open throughout the pandemic. By the nature of most open-plan offices, desks that connect to each other – and have occupants that face each other with little in the way besides a computer or laptop – are commonplace. Short of becoming a thing of the past altogether, such desk arrangements could be augmented with a clear acrylic screen to prevent any cross infection. The Coronavirus is not actually properly airborne and is transmitted via droplets of water propelled by coughs and sneezes before eventually falling to the ground. You can spread it either in this way or by touching contaminated surfaces – it doesn’t simply hover in the air. For these reasons, humble office screens can go a long way to containing the spread.
One-way systems are an effective infection-beating technique already being employed in hospitals coping with the pandemic – it could well come to your office too. The principle behind an office one-way system is that if everybody walks the one direction, contact (with both people and objects) is significantly minimised. The thing about such a measure however is that, like many others, it would probably require some sort of signage to keep it regularly enforced. Therefore, we might have to get used to Coronavirus-related signage becoming a more common sight in our offices. And if we can expect signs telling us to only traverse in the office space in one direction, you can be sure there will also be the more familiar signs reminding us to keep our distance, wash our hands, cover our mouths and noses, and cough into our arms.
Less Open-Plan Spaces
Of course, the very idea of an open-plan office doesn’t seem particularly well suited to the age of Covid-19. While it is pretty unlikely that they will go by the wayside, alternatives to open plan or “less open plan” solutions are sure to become more popular. Towards open plan has been the general direction of office design for decades, so the reversal could be fairly significant. Arjun Kaicker, an analytics and insights expert from Zaha Hadid Architects reckons that a return to “1950s cellular cubicles” is unlikely but also that the “density” of office layouts seems set to change. Quite simply, this means more office partitions and floor standing screens, and more isolation for the office worker. Exactly how far such measures will go, however, only time will tell.
Call us today to see how we can help you adapt your office to enable social distancing in the workplace.