Former BBG Chairman Charles Neil shares his view on how office space and employee protection could be implemented as a a result of this COVID-19 pandemic.
Say hello to the past of high-walled cubicles made fa- mous in the 1999 film, “Office Space,” because they’re about to make a comeback and it’s safe to say the open office is dead.
Getting back to work is not just about making up for lost time, but also about realising that a dramatic shift in of- fice life, as we know is being unveiled.
For years, office design has crammed more and more employees into smaller spaces, while creating an open collaborative atmosphere. Take tech companies for in- stance that are highly dense and working in those ‘benching work stations’ side by side. Now with
Covid-19, aspects like “benching” are the opposite of what employees want to face as they return to work.
Could the recent boom in co-working companies, where start-ups share buildings - and in some cases, desks - change post-virus lockdown?
However after this global pandemic, are companies real- ly going to want to put their entire team in one place, where they’re closely mingling with other businesses?
As companies plan how to bring their workforce together again in the office, numerous ideas are being thought of.
Namely, how to provide an environment that will keep workers safe, healthy and productive. While some of these strategies involve testing and monitoring employ- ees to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, architects are going to become extremely busy thinking about how to design new offices or ‘retro-fit’ existing ones, as well as HVAC engineers to reconfigure existing layouts as well as adapting to the new measures being brought in. A lot of the standards developed over the years to make of- fices eco-friendly actually run counter to making an office safe from a public health perspective. There are no regu- lations in place on how to operate buildings in this new zeitgeist, so it will be up to each individual company to do develop its own policies and bring in experts to advise who may offer quite differing advice.
How to start 'de-densifying' the office Designers say changes may include:
Wider Corridors With One-Way Footfall
Think road markings, but for offices. From squash-court- style lines in lobbies to standing spots in lifts, and from circles around desks to lanes in corridors, the floors and walls of our offices are likely to be covered in visual in- structions.
One possible approach is to encourage employees to walk clockwise, creating one-way flow to minimize transmission, as adopted by many hospitals during the current outbreak.
(Cushman & Wakefield design with trackers alerting people if they break the 2 meter rule https://www.cushmanwake-field.com)
Air Filtration & Circulation
Touchless elevator controls
Antimicrobial materials in new construction
Videoconferencing even within the office to avoid the conference room
Dividing the workplace in half with alternating atten- dance days would come alternating
Companies may also need to invest in a new suite of contactless technologies to reduce disease transmission. The new headquarters for the Bee’ah waste manage- ment company in Sharjah, UAE may be a glimpse of the future. (https://www.zaha-hadid.com) is packed with ‘contactless pathways’, whereby employees rarely need to touch the building with their hands. Office doors open automatically using motion sensors and facial recognition, while lifts - and even a coffee - can be ordered from a smartphone.
Technology could also be used to remind employees of social distancing. This could be evidenced by installing beacons into its office to track employees’ movements via their mobile phones, potentially sending alerts when six-feet rules are breached.
Many workers would like to continue working from home as they remain productive, avoiding the risk of contagion via the daily commute, and companies may need all the space they can get as they put dis- tance between
However the office is here to stay as there are sev- eral challenges that come with working from home. The individual workers will need to invest heavily on additional communication peripherals like printers, scanners, copiers that can cope with commercial volumes as opposed to personal
Companies expecting to save money initially by requiring less space may not be able to do in the short term be- cause of reduced densities, but commercial rents will fall due to economic conditions, and once office design changes take place with more capsulation /individualised work stations being installed.
Collateral changes that will take place will be clean desk policies to allow more efficient cleaning of surfaces, lap- tops instead of desktops that can be taken away.
Antimicrobial materials and ultraviolet lights for cleaning may be the future, but will not yet be in place as most people go back to school and work.
Toyota said on its earnings call that it will install plexi- glass barriers between bathroom sinks. Many office bath- rooms already have touch-less sinks and soap dis- pensers, but what about the toilet stall door? These should at a minimum open outwards to avoid touching handles in the cubicles and maybe thinking through even incorporating voice activation to open doors?
All companies will have to put a team member in charge of making sure employees follow the new rules about distancing.
Conserving Energy & Improving Air Quality
After the crisis, some workers will likely continue working from home on a regular basis. To accommodate a more flexible workforce, companies have more reason to de- mand adaptive energy systems. Currently offices are de- signed to accommodate a certain number of employees on any given day. That means if only half of the employ- ees show up on any given day, the energy usage is un-likely to change much, but the offices may end up being colder than usual.
It will become necessary to install adaptive systems that can respond more effectively to changes in occupancy levels.
A summary of practical measures for building services operation:
Secure ventilation of spaces with outdoor air
Switch ventilation to nominal speed at least 2 hours before the building usage time and switch to lower speed 2 hours after the building usage time
At nights and weekends, do not switch ventilation off, but keep systems running at lower speed
Ensure regular airing with windows (even in me- chanically ventilated buildings)
Keep toilet ventilation 24/7 in operation
Avoid open windows in toilets to assure the right di- rection of ventilation
Instruct building occupants to flush toilets with closed lid
Switch air-handling units with recirculation to 100% outdoor This perhaps the most controversial rec- ommendation, but actually what caused the spread of Corona on the Cruise Ships was circulation of the airborne particles in the air conditioning systems. (Aircraft, which have cut fresh air intakes to negligi- ble amounts on the basis of saving on fuel costs, will have to switch to 100 %, but with fuel prices low for the foreseeable future this should not be an issue.)
It is recommended to avoid recirculation of air dur- ing COVID-19 episodes by closing the recirculation dampers (via the Building Management System or manually). Sometimes air handling units and recircu- lation sections are equipped with return air filters, but most of these filters, even HEPA filters may not filter out virus size particles Ultraviolet light can be used to disinfect indoor spaces and could be installed to destroy viruses, fresh air intake,
Inspect heat recovery equipment to be sure that leakages are under control
Switch fan coils either off or operate so that fans are continuously on
Do not change heating, cooling and possible humidi- fication set points
Plan duct cleaning for this period
Replace central outdoor air and extract air filters as usually, according to maintenance schedule
More frequent filter replacement and maintenance works should be performed with common protective measures including respiratory protection. Although HEPA filters may not filter out Corona particles ef- fectively, these should be installed where possible to cut out other viruses, which have not gone away while all this is going
Plasma Ionic Air Purifiers This is an ideal product for anyone who needs to maintain a silent, clean and fresh environment for a low cost. Plasma Ionic Air Purifiers operate in five stages ,which effectively eliminate bacteria, viruses, allergens and dust.
First Stage - Plasma Ionizing Technology
Second Stage - ElectrostaticDust Collection
Third Stage - Photcatalytic Nano Filter
Forth Stage - Anti-Bacterial Material and Filter
Fifth Stage - UV (ultra violet) Lamp
Thus there are a lot of options to consider.
Having a central place to gather and collaborate in per- son will likely remain essential to most businesses, and where open offices persist, the spaces with employees packed in like sardines will be scrutinised—which may lead to design changes that give employees more space and flexibility.
People’s expectation about their buildings will change. The next time we go back to our offices, we’ll think about it differently.