What are the shifts and changes that we can anticipate in workplace design post COVID-19?
Yatin Patel: Although open floor plans have been a matter of high debate in the fraternity, we are not anticipating the entire concept to be shunned; it may not see an entire end. The challenge is how we, as designers, can envision a newer way of designing floor plans that do not migrate to old school but are countered well enough to be qualifying as physically safe.
On the other hand, workplace occupancy planning and the staggered return to the workplace will be largely informed by data analytics. A simulation through workspace design and occupancy software lending outputs of varied scenarios to fulfill the precautionary norms and yet optimise the existing space budget intelligently is going to be the way forward. This technology experiment will also get organizations to be adept at using digitally forward facility management systems to maximize their productive gains from the facility from time to time.
The use of common amenities and collaboration areas will have to be re-engineered and redesigned to minimise effects of cross-contamination. Pandemic rooms within the workplace will have a dedicated space on the floorplan with much more emphasis on healthcare technologies in the workplace for organizations of all strengths.
All said and done, the pandemic and its restrictions to virtual working has also led to self-evaluations and realising the concept of lean business operations in terms of time, cost and resource optimization. (eg: confined to virtual interactions - would you step back to re-think if you really needed 10 people gathering in a room to make a decision? Would you really need those many hours of time wasted in traveling for certain issues that can be effectively tackled through remote working?) The need to reconstruct how we operate is an opportunity for creating new business value rather than restricting ourselves to confined spaces and limited engagements.
The industry is now witnessing differing reviews about workspace design. How has your firm been responding to the crisis, what are the market symptoms appearing like?
Yatin Patel: While there is no denying that the transition did have teething issues, I think most firms have been able to now adapt to this new normal of working remotely. It has brought us to believe and re-affirm the potential of technology in the realm of virtual operations. The performance pressure has been massive and successfully countering this pressure is to my mind, our boot camp to crisis preparedness and employee empowerment even for the future.
Most of our staff wellbeing interactions that we as founders at DSP have initiated give us an insight that among the choices of work settings that people have at their disposal, it is the workplace that they still look forward to working from. People still believe that a well-designed and enabled environment fosters productivity while keeping staffers ergonomically comfortable. As CEOs and firm owners, it is a great deal of responsible thinking and a step towards making the right investments on our part as we strategise to welcome the hundreds of people working for us back to office post the pandemic.
Our perspectives on flattening the curve are primarily going to be decisive on how soon we can foster a full-throttle delivery environment that pronounces employee safety and wellbeing as paramount. While wellness was a major consideration in any workspace, the science of wellbeing has shaped up much differently now with a series of parameters as added considerations through this crisis especially until a vaccine for Covid19 is officially announced and it is no longer considered life-threatening. (eg: precautions for social distancing at the physical workplace, de-densifying workstations, migrating back to a precautionary fixed desking system to avoid sharing, upgrading air filtration systems, exploring newer ways of working, allowing flexibility, etc)
What according to you is an opportunistic side to this situation?
Yatin Patel: The challenges as architects, designers and urban planners are now much more evolved and human-centric. This is also a great opportunity for the building materials and allied industries to innovate and reinvent wellness as a feature to their product offerings. From the use of antimicrobial technologies in their material mix to still ensuring the products do not compromise on their dimensional stability and aid in reducing health hazards especially for materials used in areas of larger anticipated footfalls.
In your opinion, what is the future of commercial design and the industry at large?
Yatin Patel: The future has great potential for commercial design to take its leap into intelligent design adaptations and the acceptance as learning from the pandemic is likely to be encouraging. Technology will no longer be seen as an additional expense but as a means of progressive operations prepared to even withstand nature’s blow! The idea of climatic conditions requiring a change in human behavior or a slower reaction to situations restricting travel or face2face business interactions is set to change. The world is much more informed today upon experiencing the pandemic to counter and sustain businesses effectively.
- Data-rich workplaces shall be a trend to look forward to.
- Use of spatial analytics with wellbeing parameters
- Wiring the built environment to understand behavioral patterns
- Migration from shared to personal devices
- Introduction of touchless and gesture-based applications and smart fixtures
- Voice-based platforms like Alexa and Siri will be the preferred norm of robotic operations
In terms of architecture and urban planning:
- Modular building systems shall gain traction
- Introduction of outside air will become a greater part of new-builds
- Wellbeing building standards will come to fore
- Foyers and building lobbies will intensify designing to be much more intelligent and safer
- There will be a resurgence of mixed-use developments with self-sustaining districts and connected communities
Given all of the above, the idea is to concentrate on the short term, while planning to capitalise on it in the long term. It all zeros down to a “PEOPLE FIRST” philosophy.