As we begin to come to terms with the affect the COVID-19 pandemic has had on all our lives we, as designers, need to think about the future and our role in a post COVID-19 world.
We have always been aware of the profound impact our surroundings have on our wellbeing but the current crisis has made us all re-evaluate what has been the normal for a very long time and how that is likely to change in the future.
The decision to continue to work from home or operate with a core team in the office is dependent on the type of work employees do. There are, and have been, many industries which require the full time presence of a large number of employees and the design or redesign of such spaces will be a key focus going forward.
On the other hand, focused work that requires singular concentration can be done from home in a highly effective manner and those who need to go to the office to work on collaborative projects can do so and still observe the social distancing rules. This is a trend that companies may decide to follow as we begin the move back to full scale operation.
There is no doubt the current pandemic will be a driver for new approaches in design but what exactly does this look like.
While there are currently no permanent solutions or confirmed set of guidelines for the design and redesign of buildings and workspaces a lot depends on the overall operational requirements of the space.
Most general guidelines consider the importance of the arrival and entrances, whether that is a hotel, an office or a school with the installation of heat-sensing cameras armed with an alarm installed that will show the heat signature of those entering the building.
Offices are going to be as contactless as possible with hands-free light switches and touchless elevator controls that can be controlled via your smart phone.
Automatic sliding doors at entrances that use motions sensors or facial recognition will replace traditional pull/push doors to avoid the need for handles and sensor based technology in washrooms will ensure taps, paper towel and soap dispensers will all be hands-free.
Distancing is going to be key with wider corridors and desks spaced to allow for the mandatory two metre working distance between workstations. There will be a requirement for the redesign of reception counters to ensure there is enough space between the employee and the visitor and seating areas will be designed with fewer seats.
Hygiene and sanitization remains vital and we will see a greater use of NanoSeptic, or self-cleaning surfaces. Interior designers will find themselves sourcing antimicrobial materials for fabrics and paint and UV light will be installed that will disinfect the spaces at night once the office is closed.
There is no doubt that technology will play a large part in the offices and work places of the future with a greater reliance on videoconferencing for meetings and coffee machines that will dispense coffee by Smart phones to avoid touching the machine.
A post-covid world is one that will see a period of adjustment for designers, building owners and developers ringing in many changes as we all adapt to a socially distanced, hygienic life.
The challenge for designers will be to create buildings that are, not only, fit for place and purpose but have the flexibility and adaptability to evolve over time. One thing we have learned during this difficult period is that the human connection is vital to our wellbeing and, while working from home is one solution we do want to be back in the office. But we also want to stay safe and healthy whilst there.
By Avinash Kumar, Associate Partner