14th September 2020

How will COVID affect future office design?

Since COVID started, I have had a number of people talking about us all going back to the days of the 1970s and 80s, with cellularised offices and individual cubicles.

Brightly coloured contemporary office

Photo by Pacific Office Interiors on Unsplash

Modern offices are designed to be more organic than a traditional grid based office, it is defined by people and culture rather than inflexible geometry, representing fluid and flexible working with an emphasis on openness and communication, and I don’t believe that will change.

Remote working has proved surprisingly effective for many companies, and with advances in technology, the days of everyone being in the office 9 till 5 Monday – Friday, will be a thing of the past, for most.

However the offices of the future will need to adapt and be prepared for any future outbreaks of COVID or any other new virus. Putting all your employees in a small open plan office, does not work moving forward.

Three keys areas where COVID could affect future office design are:

More space

This a given, wider corridors and doorways, more partitioning between departments.

Integrated technology

Using technology to remove touch points sounds difficult, but it is just making existing technology more common place. This could be as simple as automatic doors, sensors on sanitary systems or contactless locks. We can have voice based systems for lighting and heating in our homes, so why not in the office?

Cleaning requirements

To simplify cleaning, lockers for personal possessions and clear desk paperless offices with be the new normal. Materials will be specified which have surfaces that withstand heavy cleaning and kill/reduce the life of bacteria/viruses

Currently no one is willing to invest significant sums on solutions that could be rendered ineffective by a COVID vaccine, and generally companies are only implementing management strategies and low cost systems to provide employees with a sense of safety.

Moving forward, tenants will drive forward the changes to the office design and they will demand these higher standards when taking new leases, as they are currently paying rent on unusable spaces in city centres.

With a higher chance of another COVID situation in the future, businesses will want to be prepared. Post COVID I can see offices being rated on virus suppression, just as they are for energy efficiency.

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