The immediate priority for organisations is to bring people back to work as swiftly and safely while making offices more humane, comfortable, and safe. For most companies, this will necessitate a retrofitting exercise. The de-densification of offices will accompany this return to the workplace. The space allocated to each employee will increase with larger workstations and higher partitions.
Existing offices will transform into spaces that practice physical distancing through the use of visual behavioural margins. The addition of barriers or glass screens enhanced sanitisation measures, and staggered entry and egress times to decongest arrival and departures are other measures that will be incorporated.
Enhanced air quality and proper ventilation is key to preventing the spread of COVID-19. In buildings where offices are sealed units, a part of the glazing could be opened and cordoned off to act as a small verandah. Additionally, the post-COIVD-19 office will need to incorporate appropriate disinfection infrastructure such as easily cleanable and anti-microbial surfaces and finishes, low absorbent fabrics, Etc. The air-conditioning design for office buildings will also undergo significant re-engineering such that a zone-wise separation of the air distribution system will become the new norm.
Dynamics of a 'new office'
As preparations gather pace for the relaxing of lockdown measures, it is clear that the workplace will have to adapt fast to deliver a safe environment. that employees can trust. In the short term, this includes enabling physical distancing measures and a hybrid office/work-from-home combination to ensure decreased density, reception and lift protocols, management of meeting rooms, kitchenettes and toilets, greater use of touch-free technology, and natural ventilation and other building services.
- As shown in the plan above, the space allocated to each employee has increased with larger workstations and higher partitions. Existing spaces have been transformed to practice physical distancing through the use of visual behavioral margins.
- Direct contact with communal services such as blinds, light switches, and toilets has been eliminated to provide a safer environment. These have been replaced by simple sensor-activated lights and faucets, water-dispensers, and smart window shades.
- The physical reception area has been replaced by a virtual reception that relies on smart technology and digital screens to convey information to visitors.
- To maintain hygiene, temporary plexiglass screens have been installed at various check-in points, hand-sanitizer dispensers, and UV phone sterilising stations have been placed in plain view and magazines, pens, and pads from the reception have been removed.
- Attendance systems have evolved to operate on facial and voice recognition technology. The carrying capacity of the lifts has been reduced by 1/4th.
- Agile workspaces have been redefined – close collaborative and communal spaces have made way for staggered seating. Workstations are connected through digital tools that allow multiple users to work simultaneously and attend VCs from their stations.
- Sliding panels create dynamic working and meeting spaces; single occupancy pods for working and phone booths have been provided; hive spaces have transformed to be open and spaced-out, and enclosed jump spaces have been provided for meetings with outsiders.
- Movement patterns have been defined to stagger entry and exit times and decongest arrival and departures; multiple shifts for lunch hour have been formulated to control the number of people gathered near the pantry at a particular time.
- Additionally, technology embedded in furniture has allowed workstations to be truly ‘plug-and-play.’
The onset of AI (Artificial Intelligence) and IoT (Internet of Things) has changed the way businesses communicate, making operations more productive and secure. By taking advantage of today’s cloud-based management technologies, Morphogenesis was able to implement the digital workplace from the comfort of everyone’s homes in a matter of hours. We ensured business continuity by enabling secure access to data, enterprise applications, virtual meetings, and cloud-conferencing solutions scaled across platforms, locations, and devices with ease.
The workplace in a ‘post-COVID-19 world’ needs to re-evaluate, reinvent, and prepare to respond to the next significant disruption swiftly. Today, minimising the transmission of virus at work and employee health is of top priority for all organisations. The way we approach high-touch areas and navigation within the office has changed.
The office of the post-COVID normal will have smaller, sensible floor plates, virtual receptions and conferencing areas, automated sanitised working pods, increased ‘elbow rooms’ in seating arrangements, and rental spaces for team meetings or gatherings.
There will be a resurgence of the ‘hub-and-spoke’ model of working – wherein one packed office will break down into multiple smaller operable locations alongside a remote workforce. Furthermore, shared amenities such as gymnasiums and cafeterias will move from inside the main office building to open landscaped areas.
Allotment of space, services, and resource allocation, along with judicious use of materials and energy consumption, results in an augmented workforce with better amenities and effective use of the area. Furthermore, the design solutions for the post-pandemic normal shall include sensor activated and voice-activated controls for elevators and doors, facial recognition in place of manual biometric systems, use of antimicrobial materials akin to those used in hospitals, virtual meeting rooms accessible from various points within/outside the office, use of spatial and thermal analytics to assess risks of viral transmissions, use of infrared fever screening systems and advanced air purification systems that reduce airborne contaminants