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Publication in EBM Magazine ISSUE 12 / SUMMER 2020

In the words of Norman Foster, “as an architect, you design for the present, with awareness of the past, for a future which is essentially unknown.”

As restrictions are being lifted around the world, a pandemic like this one nudges us to design for an environment somewhat different to the one we were thinking of only four months ago. Where the mindset was one of grouping people together to create more collaborative spaces where whole teams would gather in areas for brainstorming, coaching and team-building activities, we are now facing a situation where we need to provide solutions to keep the same spirit alive but with social distancing playing an active role.

So where do we go from here? Design thinking needs to happen on many levels and needs to take care of the now, next week, next month and next year. Over time, the things we as architects think about now will become the way things just are in the workplace left by the legacy of the COVID-19 pandemic. The opportunity here is to adapt our mentality to make the workplace a safer place to work.

The priority for many businesses, schools, authorities and other organisations is to get back to a full working force as soon as possible and with people being so aware of the spread of disease, the safety of the people will be placed ahead of everything else.

In the short term, it seems likely that remote working will be fully integrated in our daily work life so the challenge then is to incorporate elements in the physical office to keep communication and interaction between colleagues alive. The changes at this first stage will probably be more organisational in nature with the implementation of strategic timetables for the workspace to ease into moving out of the kitchen office and back to their office desks in coordinated groups. This too will allow space to react quickly to a second wave if that occurs. The idea here would be to allow enough space between workstations that the worker would feel comfortable to be there once again. The thought process should take things as far as creating routes for the workers to limit the number of times they might encounter others while they circulate.

Thinking about the immediate future, once people ease into making the shift back to the office, many organisations will need to reconfigure the workplace to accommodate the same amount of people with a less dense ration of people to space. Corridors will get wider, barriers will probably need to be placed between stations, cleaning and sanitising will most likely increase.

The need to travel for business meetings will most likely be challenged and therefore high quality video conferencing will become necessary to seamlessly merge the virtual and physical space.

What about a year from now? We all assume that a vaccine will be found and the virus will vanish but what can we take away from this period? We believe that there is no better time to promote versatility as opposed to dependability and to adopt a more fluid philosophy of adaptability. We will probably see a whole new wave of office furniture where the size is likely to increase again and materials will now have an antibacterial material as an expected standard.

People now have a whole new understanding and appreciation of being together and design thinking needs to take care of the people we design for.

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