Tower Office Group

The New “Normal”? Visions of the Workplace

Utilizing design, technology, and innovation to create a human-centered workplace. The calming influence of natural elements, such as a green wall and access to natural daylight, create a sense of well-being — imperative in this time of transition. Furniture can be used to create a flexible workspace that can be adjusted in the future when social distancing is no longer required. Circulation space should be enlarged to allow for 6’ between users and, if desired, one-way circulation. Touchless technology provides an innovative solution to how we interact with the space.

The first challenge in the RETURN TO WORK experience is how we get to work. Most people who work in large cities arrive at the office by some form of public transportation, which in and of itself is a non-starter for many employees. This, in addition to extenuating circumstances, like having children who are now schooling from home, will impact the number of people who return to the office on a part-time or full time-basis.

Privacy in the workplace

For those who make it into the office, the existing workplace layout presents multiple challenges, from lack of sufficient distance between workspaces to multiple touchpoints that can create possibilities for contamination. Narrow corridors create pinch points for people passing in opposite directions. Door handles, paper towel dispensers, trash bins and other surfaces are all potential sites for the Covid-19 virus to live on. Enclosed spaces, like meeting rooms, are hazardous areas if too many people are crowded into a space. The materials we use to aid in acoustics, again, become locations where the virus might survive for several hours to days. Everyday objects become something to fear, as does human interaction when we don’t know who else everyone is meeting with throughout the day.

Additionally, humans are social beings. We are accustomed to gathering, meeting in groups and collaborating, chatting in the kitchen while getting a cup of coffee, or in the hallway on our way to and from meetings. Shared spaces like coffee points and office kitchens can no longer be utilized as gathering spaces for office meetings. All of these “normal” social moments must change while we await a vaccine or, at the very least, a successful form of treatment.

As designers, we can create a light, airy feel to permeate the space, which is designed to provide a sense of health, safety, and well-being to help minimize the stress associated with reentry to the office. A green wall can fill the main open workspace, as well as other green elements. All areas should have views and access to natural light.

Whether you enter as a visitor or an employee or staff member, your experience may begin at the office reception area, checking in at the self-check kiosk. If you are a visitor, this would alert your host you have arrived. If you are a staff member, this is how you would select your seat for the day and check out at the end of the day to alert cleaning staff that your desk/seat is ready for disinfection. An attendant could be available to answer questions as needed, however, visitor check-in and desking selection is done through the touchless application at the kiosk screen, using an app on your smart phone.

The lobby seating arrangement should allow for a minimum of 6’ from persons checking in at the reception desk kiosk and from the other lobby seats. For now, shared kitchenettes and coffee points should be taken out of service, to minimize contact.

In the open work areas, standing height desks with plug & play monitors could be mixed with furniture pieces such as the OFS Heya, which features a built-in laptop table to provide for two flexible desking options all spaced such that people will be a minimum of 6’ apart. A flexible furniture benching arrangement can provide a minimum of 6’ spacing, with storage units in between that can easily be changed out in the future to allow for additional desking.

Smart lockers should be provided for housing personal items during the day, which are locked and unlocked using your smartphone. No personal items should be left on desks at the end of the day, so that surfaces may be easily cleaned. All staff should come with their laptop to plug in at their selected work location. There should be no sharing of keyboard or mouse to minimize the areas where bacteria is difficult to clean. We recommend upgrading all doors to have touchless, automatic opening technology, as well.

Corridors, if possible, should be sized to allow for 2-way traffic as needed, but the floor plan layout can also restrict to single direction traffic for increased social distancing. Conference room furniture can be changed out to ensure social distancing by utilizing larger tables with fewer chair. Smaller rooms can be set up for individual video-conferencing with furniture that can be changed to allow for more people in the future. Buzzihoods can be utilized to provide for privacy and quiet and allow for casual calls. Each hood should be spaced a minimum of 6’ apart. Enclosed phone booths can also provide for phone calls and video conferencing (with booth materials that can be easily wiped down after use). Bathrooms should be upgraded to be hands free with automatic doors and lighted signs above the doors to signal if they are vacant or occupied. Ideally, elevators should also be upgraded to have touchless technology, where possible. Additional changes that can be made are increasing the amount of fresh air cycling in through the HVAC system and changing out existing ACT ceilings for Mylar Clean Room Ceiling Tiles.

Check back for more posts about the Future of Workplace!