As we have all struggled through the last few months of the Covid-19 pandemic and the drastic changes we have seen to our daily lives and working lives, it will be interesting to see how we come out the other side. There are many things that will be different than they ever have been before, with social distancing rules a requirement for the foreseeable future. How will this impact us in the workplace and how will architects and urban designers take on board this new way of life to ensure people can work productively and safely? It is an interesting conundrum and will of course differ drastically from industry to industry and workplace to workplace.
Our working habits have changed so much since the Covid-19 outbreak earlier in the year that has impacted every part of the world. For many people, the future answer to this problem in terms of the economy is to continue to use remote working as the ideal solution wherever possible, but that does bring with it the impact on the mental health of a huge percentage of the population. For others, there is a need to get back to the physical workplace and work out how to deal with the new restrictions in an effective way. Whatever the answer, things have changed for good, but how will design get around the problems in the physical workplace?
For a decade or more, the primary concern of architects and designers has been to focus on sustainability and the impact of architecture on the environment. Naturally, this will now shift towards how to prevent the spread of infection and how to create spaces that are safe for people to go back to their ‘normal’ way of life. There are some similarities between the two however, with the practical solutions required to help with the overarching problem, whilst the daily lives of the people impacted must remain the same or improved in the process.
Changes in the workplace are required with the new problem of preventing the spread of infection. In every single workplace, no matter the industry, there are multiple interactions for every single person on both a functional and pleasantries level. We have seen a shift towards hot-desking, co-working and open-plan offices in recent times, but this only brings with it a higher risk of infection in the new climate. So, this is where the focus must now be, how can you decrease the density of people in the workplace without it impacting the productivity and profitability of the business?
There is going to be a need for a flexibility of work in the future, for all industries. Some companies are already producing rotas where only a certain number of people are allowed on site at any given time, working remotely the rest of the time. Spacing has been increased in offices, no air conditioning is permitted and remote work set-up in a way that is comfortable for those working at home whilst maintaining contact with colleagues and management for smooth work processes and better mental health.
We are all going to have to get used to the new world, post-Covid. It might be a while off before we see vaccinations and a return to ‘normal’. In the workplace this could mean a raft of changes in all industries as safety is prioritised and social distancing measures are introduced. The design and architecture world has always been on top of innovation in this regard and it is an exciting time to see what is produced in the coming years that helps myriad workplaces remain functional, productive, profitable and most importantly safe for workers. The best architecture firms will be on the case and already implementing new ideas and strategies.