COVID-19 leaving its mark on office designs

Office designs encouraging more physical distancing could become the norm

After the pandemic has passed, its imprint will be left on many office spaces, predicts a Red Deer realtor.

Jordan Krulicki believes the office sector will experience some of the biggest changes when society is back to its new normal.

Clients’ wish lists are already starting to include measures to make it easier for staffers to physically distance, said Krulicki, who is with Red Deer’s Century 21 Advantage Commercial.

A recent group that he toured through a property using FaceTime very much had pandemic-influenced design decisions in mind.

“They were actually discussing what they would need to change with the current office layout I was showing, and how to incorporate better safety measures.

“They were going to go with a little more chopped-up (design), with individual offices as opposed to those communal work areas and such.

“The whole trend of the last few years has been that open-work area, work-share units. But I think we’re going to go back to the older, really chopped-up units.”

New carpet designs with two-metre personal spaces delineated are among the ideas showing up in business communities.

“I think you’re going to see more design elements that just give people that subtle reminder, that, ‘Hey, this is my area and my zone.’”

The design philosophy has been coined the “six-foot office,” and the concept has been getting plenty of news coverage over the past few months.

Global commercial real estate services firm Cushman & Wakefield manages more than 800 million square feet of office space in China and used lessons learned there to create a best-practices guide that is available on its website.

Besides more clearly defining individual workspaces, new six-foot office protocols include walking around an office in a clockwise direction only, as well as replacing desk pads daily and leaving desks clear.

Krulicki also expects to see businesses doing more to create a welcoming work environment, especially for staffers who may have got a taste of working from home.

“Businesses are going to want to make their properties look as best as possible, and as attractive to people as possible, because you’re competing with someone’s house.

“If they want to attract those high-end employees who will want to be in the office, they’re going to have to spruce it up.”

Red Deer architect George Berry expects clients will be looking at their spaces with new eyes post-pandemic.

“I think the entire way we’re doing things is changing, from the way we’re tendering projects to the design requirements,” said Berry, who owns Berry Architecture and Associates, and has done many local projects, including the new Westpark Middle School.

Berry expects clients will request designs that allow for more physical distancing, such as moving work stations farther apart and installing more dividers.

“Along with circulation patterns and flows around the building, I think we’re definitely going to see some changes,” he said.

More clients will be requesting spaces designed for video and tele-conferencing, he predicts.

Berry set aside a room in his office equipped for video-conferencing about a year ago, when he established a branch in Cranbrook, B.C.

With half his staff working from home during the pandemic, it proved invaluable.

“It was just perfect timing,” he said. “It’s used all the time.

“Yesterday, it was used from about 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., when I had my last Zoom meeting.”

Berry agrees that companies will be looking to make their offices more accommodating for staff who, perhaps, got a taste of the comfort of working from home.

“I’m actually doing quite a few renovations right now in Cranbrook and Kimberly for offices to do that.”

One group he is working with fears staff will be reluctant to return to the office.

“But they see the value in bringing them back, so they’re going to do what they have to.

“They’re trying to be more responsive to the workers they have coming into the office. They want to make sure when they do come back, that they are acknowledging they spend a lot of time in there.

“I think they felt they were taking a lot of their staff members for granted.”

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