Prashant Sawant, Vertical Head – Corporate Interiors, Edifice Consultants

Prashant has considerable experience in all architectural aspects of a project, having performed roles both at the studio within the design team, in addition to site and client management. His track record of projects handled includes an SEZ, amongst the largest in the country. Prashant believes that a refined aesthetic or “the right look and feel” in a project is essential for a positive user experience the most crucial aspect of a designed space. He is always keen to research and implement new techniques and material palettes in his design.

 

How the future designs will be addressing employee comfort?  How will the infrastructure assure maximum safety to their employees when they come back to their offices?

Employee health and wellbeing are high on all company radar screens today. The workplace of the future is not ever going to be the same. The workplace needs well-designed, unique collaborative spaces that are flexible and adaptable. There are two angles to ensuring safety of employees: The Design angle, and the Operational angle – both with the maximum utilization of technology possible to bring us together rather than segregate us at workplaces.

Design: ‘Bleach cleanable’ is often a prerequisite within healthcare design; this vocabulary had never entered the corporate office due to its institutional perception. Now, hardware will be retrofitted with new antimicrobial options or sensors to open doors.  Reception areas will still provide warm welcoming zones – but with a strategically designed barrier to the receptionist and bottled water instead of that communal pitcher or Keurig. The use of shared, large scale furnishings like multi-seat sofas may sway toward individual chairs. While maintaining the existing layout of desks and furniture, seating can be assigned to accommodate the latest recommendations for safe physical distancing.

The contribution of indoor air systems to the spread of pathogens is nothing new, but there will be a heightened awareness for how recirculated air in office buildings is treated and zoned for the health and safety of its occupants.

Buildings will face increased pressure to prove additional investment in mechanical filtration and maintenance as well as design of systems that incorporate increased fresh air intake to reduce the amount of re-circulated air within the office space. Older buildings that offer operational windows may be more desirable to allow occupants better access to outside air.

Operations: As people start to return, workplace apps are evolving to include new features focusing on health and safety. We can expect enhanced cleaning protocols in office buildings and transparency in the communications of these – at most, a state or federally regulated baseline standard. There will need to be obvious evidence of this routine, with visible indicators of the last time an area was serviced. We are not talking about the sheet of paper at the restroom, but digital cues and indicators of servicing and timing in addition to observing service workers in action – cleaning frequently and correctly disinfecting surfaces per cleaning agent instructions.

There is growing demand to not only keep employees safe but to keep buildings as secure as possible. Facial recognition technology offers a quick and seamless way to verify who’s coming in and out of the building. To mitigate the chance of bringing COVID-19 to the office, companies are implementing mandatory screening protocols for all employees every day before they enter the office. Screening questions range from travel-related questions to health symptoms. The results of the screen will indicate whether the individual should enter the workplace or remain home on each day.

As we proceed into the months ahead, and plans commence for the return to the office, we hope these considerations can support the balance of business continuity and the safety of workers everywhere.

What major changes will be seen in the office culture post-pandemic? Will the in-office work culture survive the work from the home trend?

The office is shifting from a place of work to a place of collaboration. It used to be that the office was for everyone working 9-to-6 hours; now people will dip in and out of the space, so the space will need to reflect that.

Having more flexibility is here to stay as well. It is not the death of the office, though, as some people are saying. Not everyone is going to work from home all the time. We like to interact with other human beings in the same space. Technology has a long way to go before it can replicate that. Studies have long shown that frequent in-person interactions lead to commitment, support, and cooperation among people on teams. Post-pandemic, employees will increasingly be working in what we call the hybrid office — The office will become primarily a culture space, providing workers with a social anchor, facilitating connections, enabling learning, and fostering unscripted, innovative collaboration.

It is going to be the trend of flexible schedules and hybrid offices – where some people come in, others work from home, and many do both – is here to stay.  This means that businesses need to reimagine offices as places built less for individual knowledge work than for learning, collaboration, and culture-building.

What are the changes brought by the pandemic in the workplaces?

As the Covid-19 pandemic still rages across India, workplaces are bound to change drastically due to the coronavirus. We will see an increased focus on employee health and sanitization. Workplaces will become more distributed and high-powered with a rise in technology being implemented to tackle working with fewer people. There will be many changes in the workplace to deal with after the lockdown ends and majority of those working from home resume working from offices.

As Covid-19 has changed a lot in our lifestyle, especially affecting our work life, here are few things that will change in workplaces as people return back to their offices:

De-centralised

For those who adapt remote work more readily and function smoothly and more efficiently through the same, offices will become decentralized and will gain a renewed, focused purpose of collaboration or being a space to tackle work that cannot be done remotely. Corporate flexibility will emerge as a theme as we aim to achieve seamless switching between remote and office working.

Increased hygiene

Offices will see increased signage’s, hygiene, contactless facilities, increased automation and technology as the binding component of the changes that are coming into play. Automation will play a huge role from entry into the office to systems such as lights, attendance, washrooms, accessing amenities amongst other aspects

Less populated

Offices will also see increased hot-desking, smart scheduling, rotational shifts and design that does not function around the office being at maximum capacity. Rather, utilization and revision of existing space will take prominence.

While the trend so far has been of densification, it will now go dramatically into reverse as occupancy density emerges as a core issue for hygiene, safety and functioning.

Better air circulation

Air quality and circulation within offices will be revised and revamped as aspects of design may be borrowed from hospitals for increased hygiene and circulation of fresh air.

Better surface designs

Surfaces and materials that are used within offices will also be revaluated as design looks toward antimicrobial surfaces and furnishings that will be easy to sanitize and maintain on a regular basis but still be cost effective.

Tenants will also demand more from their landlords in terms of standards maintained and spaces that can be regularly cleaned.

Rise of technology

Technology will be omnipresent be it meetings, conferences, clarifying simple doubts, cloud-based applications and collaborative working.

It will cut down time spent commuting, discussing, negotiating, sending assets back and forth and will lead to faster outcomes depending on the extent to which organizations leverage technology.

Distributed offices

For some, a single large headquarters may not be economically viable for the resilience that is being looked for in the future.

We may see distributed offices, opting for coworking spaces or being spread out across locations so as to achieve more balance when it comes to managing occupancy and work in times of crisis or even just providing locations that are easier to commute to.

Employee health

The threat of this disease will transform society and all its methods drastically. For the time being, there will be aggressive lookouts for employees who feel even mildly unwell.

Regular temperature checks, deep sanitation and extreme social distancing within offices will be the foreseeable future till a vaccine or cure is developed.

High-performance buildings

In future, high-performance buildings which maximize the efficiency of all components of the building and workspace such as productivity, efficiency, air quality etc. will yield better results.

The investment in these buildings will be incrementally more but the result will see better productivity, lower attrition, and better performance all around.

How will the designs of future workplaces look like?

This is no time to look back. COVID-19 is presenting us with an unprecedented opportunity to improve the workplace and make it something better than before.

This should be a time for growth and change and perhaps a different vision for the future rather than just a return to the past. The message today should be one of progress and not regression.

Instead of striving for normalcy, this should be a time to step back and decide whether “returning to normal” is really our best alternative. We have a rare opportunity to be better, instead of nostalgic. We should embrace a future that is adaptive and not restorative.

An Opportunity to Work Differently

For decades, the success of workplace design was based on efficiency and density. The equation was simple: the more people, the more effort; the more effort, the more money. The first objective was to warehouse employees; everything else was secondary.

COVID-19 has taught us that we can work differently. The remote worker is no longer the exception as much as it is the rule. We have learned that we have the capacity to accept change and, in fact, grow. It is the time to take this knowledge and understand how it can make our workplace more effective and, as a result, more profitable.

This new sense of freedom has exposed alternative ways to collaborate virtually, which will continue to be refined with greater demand. We also realize that some individuals enjoy the rigor and structure of the office environment. The camaraderie and socialization of the office environment is optimum for their productivity. As part of this new reality, we must be prepared to empower and strengthen both experiences without either feeling compromised.

The workplace will never be eliminated, but it can be enhanced We can embrace the best possible remote technology solutions for collaboration, mentorship, team building, camaraderie, and culture. We should be examining ways to eliminate the barriers and create strategies that allow us to share ideas more freely and collaborate more easily.

The Workplace as a Portal

The physical manifestation of the offices could evolve into a portal, reflecting the culture and nature of the organization. Our workspaces will become the embodiment of our work and our process, instead of a vast array of desks, print stations and coffee bars. The actual physical workplace experience will become the gold standard of how we should work, offering shared environments that are cherished rather than dismissed.

This experience should encourage us to develop a workplace of the future built around how we come together meaningfully as an organization. The workplace needs well-designed, unique collaborative spaces that are flexible and adaptable. It should utilize technology in a multitude of different ways to bring us together rather than separate or segregate us.

Moving Forward

We are seeing the future of the workplace as bright and not diminished; more specialized and less ambiguous. Some may choose to downsize based on the percentage of remote workers; some may upsize depending on actual need and future goals rather than a desire to warehouse desks. We will see decentralization of the workplace bringing the office to the people rather than the expectation of the entire staff to commute to one centralized location.
We have an opportunity to be better and to live more productive and rewarding lives, if we make the right choices today.

What kind of material will design teams focus more on Post Covid-19?

The Virus due to its heaviness, falls onto surfaces quickly. This infectious virus survives outside the human body on materials such as metals, glass, and plastics for hours. The infection behaves differently on all surfaces. In this quarantine, we are rethinking our requirements and needs, along with the “new normal”: from green areas and gardens, exploitable rooftops, natural light, and ventilation, balconies, and terraces, minimal and wholesome indoor environments, transitional and filtered entrances, and more.

As designers we ask ourselves how we can create healthy, safe interiors with thoughtful surface and filtration selections. How we can have sanitized surfaces, without having to deep clean them regularly.
In the short term, the focus is on ensuring people are safe. However, COVID-19’s long-term impact on materiality is still uncertain.

Perhaps because of this uncertainty, Designers are looking for materials that naturally repel bacteria and germs. While copper and wood have long been known for their ability to kill bacteria and viruses, texture is equally important in materiality and will be a common consideration for nonmedical specification moving forward.

Many designers are looking at materials with Texture that minimizes the surface area and does not allow bacteria to survive.

Another approach that designers are exploring is minimizing high-touch surface areas altogether. Touchless doorways have been present at hospitals for many years, now we are seeing other industries incorporate sensors, motion-activated lights, and automated doors.

Beyond surfaces, for the immediate future we need to consider one of the most prominent ways COVID-19 spreads—i.e. through the air. One of the biggest considerations we focus on when designing medical buildings is air circulation. When you are walking through a hospital, you will notice that it is very hard to detect any smells, due to the advanced rate at which air is being filtered in and out of the building. In the long term, we will see more systems like this being utilized in market sectors beyond the health-care industry.

Given that the traditional construction cycle can take as long as three years, installing enhanced air filters (as opposed to a brand-new filtration system) is the biggest improvement designers can implement right now without doing a major redesign.

What we have learned is that attention to detail in materiality is such an important part of the health and safety of a space. It’s our time to shine, and by mindfully selecting the right properties of a material and pairing it with expertise in systems and filtration selections, we can be an advocate for our clients and help them design safe spaces for their end-users.

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