The Workplace Post Covid Pandemic – Impacts on Future Workplace Design & Office Fit Out

For many companies, the office space over the recent months has been off limits. Many businesses have closed their workplaces with staff forced to work remotely. Some have kept their offices operational but with minimal essential staff and most employees working from home. As restriction change and continue to ease, slowly but surely employers will be allowing staff to return to the workplace however under some new distancing guidelines and safety measures. How will these new ways of working effect how a workplace is designed and functions? Will the office footprint or tenancy size need to change? Will the workplace we knew before the coronavirus ever exist once again? In this blog post we hope to give some insight into the newly evolving workplace design and some avenues your workplace could investigate in making your office space work more safely, efficiently and profitably in the future.

Due to the COVID19 outbreak, working from home (WFH) has become the new norm for most office bound employees now. With this major shift away from the office space, business leaders have come to realise that a good percentage of their staff can work productively outside of the office. With the help of appropriate technologies employees can still perform their job tasks and continue to reach their targets and deliver results. So, if most staff don’t need to always be in the office, is there then a need to review and change how the office workplace is designed post pandemic? Given the current climate and situation high on a business’ priority list is employee safety and the significant financial implications of running a business. There is no doubt majority of business owners are trying to recoup costs, due to loss of business with many clients having placed projects or purchases on hold.

The following are some fundamental areas of office design business owners will need to consider. These aspects will gain momentum from the initial phase of employees returning to the office and into the near future as the new normal for office space design evolves. Businesses will need to plan and redesign spaces that accommodate their employee’s new social practices and ways of working. This shift may include simple daily practices but may also include redesigning their workspaces and workplace culture, adopting design practices that are more akin to healthcare facilities.

The Tenancy As Real Estate

With social distancing measures required to be in place inside an office tenancy, there will be an urgent need consider a business’ current floorplate size and existing office fit out is workable. Even with a high percentage of employees continuing to work from home, there will be a need for more space and this to be distributed among fewer staff. This will see the return of a more generous space standard, now with at least a 1.5m distance between staff work points. In short term linear runs of desks will need to have less staff placed and less staff within a shared office adhere to social distancing rules. On the other hand, businesses my chose to downsize their office space as majority of their staff will work remotely. It is a case by case scenario that businesses will need to assess and work out which direction they see most effective financially in the short and long term.

Incorporating Hygiene Safety Into Interior Design Elements

Isolation workstation screens by Montage Interiors

There is no doubt offices will need to incorporate infection control practices in the design of their workplace and office interiors. They will need to increase and adapt their cleaning methods as well as consider the cleanability of materials used throughout office space. This is will includes easy to clean and disinfect floor finishes, furniture as workstation and seating upholsteries and finishes, window finishes and curtains, to the use of contactless auto access control to entry points over door handles. A surface with antimicrobials properties helps to lower transmission organisms than ones which are non-treated thus reducing the spread of potential infection. Office design generally will see an increased call to utilise finishes that have anti-microbial traits. Two such materials are Silver and copper that many manufacturers are now using to treat surfaces or be woven into finishes as upholstery fabrics. Silver and copper can also be impregnated into Plastic or silicone surfaces like countertops and light switches. Steel and aluminium fittings and door hardware such as faucets and door handles can also have these anti-microbial materials applied as protective coating. Apart from replanning workpoint desking and their proximity across the office floor, to help reduce physical contact and transmission of bacteria, the installation of removable or fixed screens to workstations could be employed and retrofitted to existing desks. Dedicated hand sanitation stations and general office hygiene protocols will need to be put in place for employees to utilise especially if hot desking and hot office sharing occurs.

Designating Isolation Rooms In The Workplace

Spatially and facility wise office tenancies and their interior design may see a requirement for more quarantine rooms or first aid provisions. An isolation space can be any type of enclosed room so if no sick bay space in available phone rooms or small 2p meeting rooms can be converted in this instance in case an employee falls ill

The Reconfiguration Of large Flexible Spaces

Whilst using every alternate desk will see you potentially cut your capacity by 50% or more, utilising conference rooms, focus rooms, learning labs, and break out spaces as temporary dedicated seating areas can be a cost-effective option. Without having to lease more tenancy space an office can increase the numbers of employees in the workplace while maintaining physical distancing measures. A commercial office Fitout company can assist in the relocation of desks and location of power and data points to ensure the replanned space can work safely and productively.

Reviewing Mechanical Services Design (Air-conditioning)

HVAC systems and their design will become of the upmost importance in commercial interior environments. As air borne germs become more of a concern for the air quality in the office space, standard mechanical design for office buildings and tenancies may require major re-engineering to lower the risk of internal office infection. It has been said that floor and zone separation of the air distribution system will become the standard. To help kill bacteria and viruses, HEPA (High-efficiency Particulate Air) filters incorporated with high-energy ultra-violet light units to may also become a standardised feature. There are methods of designing air filtration systems to prevent infection spread. Mixing outdoor air with air within our indoor spaces can decreasing the risk of breathing infected air. It can be filtrated to remove contaminates, preventing them from being recycled in an indoor environment. These measures will be of major consideration in the mechanical design installed into conferencing, boardrooms and open offices spaces.

The Future For Workplace Interior Office Fit Outs

The way we work, and design and interact within commercial office fit outs won’t be like what we have ever experienced before. Our future workplace designs will be required to cater to the new post COVID-19 realities. For a workplace to continue to be productive and a business to be successful, it must be flexible and adaptable. It must now meet the new challenges of our hyper focus on health and safety and the introduction of employees on a heightened shift based flexible working schedule between the workplace and home office.

As outlined in this article businesses will need to understand changes involved and how these affect the overall workplace interior design now and into future. Changes will call for many cases additional capital and incur further operational costs. Experiencing the uncertainty of the recent pandemic and lockdowns, renewed focus in renewing your workplace culture. The behaviour of employees has changed, and they will require more assurance of their physical and mental wellbeing and that their personal safety in the workplace is paramount.

If you require your workplace layout to be re-planned and reconfigured, Inside Design an experienced builder specialising in office and workplace interior design across Sydney can assist with any of your commercial office fit out needs. From desking and furniture relocations to alterations of electrical and mechanical services to suit be spatial layouts or tenancy make goods, we understand your business wants to make required changes quickly so your staff can get back to work as soon as possible. Contact us now to speak to one of our business directors about your office fit out project scope.

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