What to expect in your office post COVID-19, a guide to the new “Normal”

Crowded and noisy open office spaces may be a thing of the past making way to the new “normal” featuring well-spaced workspaces and quieter working conditions. Open office plans became a design that punctuated the 21st Century office.

The modern concept was made popular by architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who believed the design would democratize the workplace. Eighty years later, designers and architects agree the design provides similar benefits including the creation of a space where collaboration has been made easy.

The design has turned into somewhat of a grievance amongst the workers that operate within it. With complaints about noise, intrusion and distractions the design is now also a potential health hazard. Generally open plans have been characterised by short or no barrier at all between employees, this became especially popular after the 2008 recession when office jobs increased. Open plans have become a way to reduce operational costs as opposed to Wright’s original designs which were characterised by natural light and space between desks.

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A study published by the Royal Society in 2018 shows that fear of infection makes crowded spaces more psychologically stressful. A recent investigation conducted by South Korea’s Centre for Disease Control shows how easily the corona virus can spread in a crowded office space. Out of 216 people, 94 tested positive for corona virus over the course of 16 days with 90% of the cases stemming from densely clustered portions of the office.

Health and wellness have long been increasing in significance in office design but with the issue of COVID-19 this has now become a designer’s priority. It’s widely recognised that employees need both calm and comfort to support their mental and physical health to produce their best work.

The introduction of barriers between desks and the spacing of employees through staggered shifts where possible has been implemented to stop the spread of corona virus. With droplets from a single sneeze having the ability to travel over 7 metres, separation has become a very important characteristic of the new “normal”.

Additional design changes including wider corridors with one-way foot traffic, better air filtration, touchless elevator controls, antimicrobial materials, touchless sink and soap dispensers and in the future UV lights to disinfect surfaces over-night are to be expected in the “normal” office space.

Whether you’re excited or not about returning to the office I’m sure we’ll all miss the extra 20 minutes of sleep and only dressing up on top for zoom meetings.


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