Offices were unprepared for the pandemic. Then again, nobody was ready for it. Because of the pandemic, nonessential workers had to adapt to working from home.
In recent months, some companies are starting to bring their workforce back to the office. Although, employees work in shifts and only come to the office a few days a week. Also, many employees are starting to prefer working from home. A survey back in October 2020 found that 80% of respondents did not want to go back to the office on a full-time basis.
The shortcomings in design revealed by the pandemic will need to be considered in redesigning office buildings. This redesign will have to ensure that employees can work away from home safely. Future office buildings will have to follow suit so that they are ready for another bout of a pandemic in the next 100 years or so.
Yes to Open Spaces with Proper Ventilation
Open office design has been a trend for a long time. It allows for better collaboration between colleagues. Also, without the high-wall cubicles and dividers, natural light is more equally distributed in an open space. Many think that the pandemic will chase away this type of design. Besides, there is a high-risk of COVID-19 transmission in enclosed spaces, like an office, where people are in close proximity with each other.
But an open-plan office won’t really go away even after the pandemic. First, installing plexiglass dividers between workstations won’t curb transmission. The dividers protect people from droplets that are shot by one person, like when they cough or sneeze. But the virus can still be transmitted by simply talking or breathing.
Instead of putting employees in between high walls, ventilation in buildings need to be changed instead. Office buildings should have a displacement ventilation system where “new air” comes from the floor. This air pushes the exhaled air up to the exhaust vents on the roof.
Use Antimicrobial Surfaces
People touch several surfaces in a day. There is no concrete evidence that touching a surface can automatically result in transmission. But if someone touches a surface and immediately touches their eyes, ears, or mouth, that’s when the person can get in trouble.
As such, it’s important for office design to also consider the safety of surfaces. Office buildings will need to have antimicrobial surfaces. They can use copper alloys to coat some surfaces. Building owners can also consider updating their flooring. The can use antimicrobial materials, such as resin and vinyl.
Roll out Touchless Technology
Speaking of touching surfaces, most employees need to touch them when they enter office buildings. For example, they need to hold a doorknob to enter, touch a fingerprint scanner to confirm their attendance, and so on. And if they don’t wash their hands immediately after touching surfaces in an office, they may be at risk of transmission.
These touch points can be eliminated by using touchless technology around an office building. This needs to start immediately at the entrance by installing automatic doors. Companies can also check employee attendance using cloud systems, instead of fingerprint scanners.
Implement One-way Hallways
Another design that should be considered in office buildings is the one-way hallway. It’s already being implemented in airports, malls, and even in schools. Workplaces need to follow suit.
A one-way system can help in reducing contact with others by easing the traffic of people. To implement this, pathway signs should be carefully placed around office hallways to ensure that employees know where to go.
This new design may present a learning curve for employees. Employees may also see this strategy as impractical. But at the end of the day, public establishments use one-way hall systems for a reason: it works in keeping people safe.
Implement Zig-zag Seating
In the office, employees often sit next to each other and in front of each other. This may change in the post-pandemic era. For example, a zig-zag seating plan may be implemented. This arrangement will keep people from breathing, coughing, or sneezing directly in front of each other. This will apply in any public space in an office building. These include the lobby, office workstations, and the office pantry.
It’s uncertain when society can go back to what it’s like pre-pandemic. Cases are still rising in several parts of the world. New strains of the novel coronavirus are also emerging. It may still take some time for employees to fully go back to office. And before that happens, office buildings need a redesign that will ensure the safety of everyone in them.