As people begin returning to office spaces, how those offices are laid out could undergo a makeover, allowing for social distancing and required hygiene needs as a virus joins the workforce. We talked to a group of people design office spaces for a living.
Steve LaMure is President and CEO of Dominus Commercial, a business property management and commercial leasing company in Dallas, who says he’s seen office space change over the years, from small private offices for each employee to open concepts with cubicles, and then open common spaces, and then co-working in common areas. LaMure says he expects that evolution to continue, hastened by the virus. He says as companies focus on how their business reflects their corporate culture and values, a minority of employees will likely continue working for home, especially those in fields that lend themselves to isolated tasks like engineering or accounting departments, but he expects the biggest change in office spaces will be in common areas, which will be larger and more multi-functional to influence collaboration. Six by six foot conference rooms are likely victims of Covid.Break rooms will continue to evolve to larger areas that will allow for better spacing. The cubicle, he says, is the worst invention ever, but it may see a resurgence as it provides a barrier between workers.
Architect Alyse Makarewicz, one of the co-founders of AMB Architects in the Galleria area of Houston, expects businesses to reconsider how many people get put into spaces, and will have to rethink the configuration of desks to maximize separation. Makarewicz too, thinks cubicles may have a newfound longevity, but suggests the trend of making them more open may cease as increased barriers become more needed. She says conference rooms are being reconsidered, but most importantly thinks reception areas will be adapted to allow for hand washing as patrons come and go. Nina Magon, a world-famous upscale restaurant and office designer and owner of Contour Interior Design in Houston, thinks businesses will be compelled to move more quickly into a virtual world, and thinks meetings with clients are going to be held on platforms like Zoom and Skype more often. She thinks air-quality is going to be an issue, as new buildings are constructed and office spaces designed, and HVAC systems will be scrutinized for safety. There is a report from China of Coronavirus having been spread in a restaurant through the air conditioning system. Magon thinks anything touchless, from door handles to faucets, will become a desired feature.
Where this pandemic takes us is anyone’s guess in all regards, but as people begin congregating in business environments again, office layout is going to be reconsidered, and those creative-types who do that for a living are already considering the possibilities and potentials.