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How will workplace design change after the COVID-19 pandemic?

Angela Gismondi
How will workplace design change after the COVID-19 pandemic?
SCREENSHOT — Joy Charbonneau, OAA, Intl. Assoc. AIA Associate, Gensler Architecture & Design Canada Inc., was one of the presenters in a panel discussion on the future of workplaces. She talked about what will matter most in workplaces as people return to work after the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forever altered the traditional workplace but what will the workplace of the future look like?

That was the question posed to speakers on a design panel entitled Technology used by Architects, Designers and Spec Writers in Present Lockdown, Stay at Home Times, which was part of the CSC Building Expo.

“For the first time in history work has been intentionally uncoupled from the traditional office,” explained Joy Charbonneau, of Gensler Architecture & Design Canada Inc. “Overnight we learned new ways of working and the question we’re all left wondering is what’s next?”

The way office spaces are laid out, designed and function in the future is going to change.

“The office matters now more than ever,” Charbonneau said. “The reimagined future of the workplace is purposeful, living, connected, more integrated and ever evolving to our clients’ needs.

“We’re seeing the future of the workplace as being an ecosystem that will bring people, place and tech together,” she added.

Gensler created a large research project in the last year focusing on working from home. The research indicates four work modes: socialize, collaborate, learn and focus.

“A key thing that we’ve learned is people do want to return to the office,” Charbonneau said. “Very few people are saying 100 per cent that they never want to go back, but there needs to be flexibility.”

Future workspaces need to be flexible and connected

While working from home is the norm today, there may come a time when people may be able to work in the office and remotely at the same time. The workplace will need to meet the needs of all workers and be flexible.

“What we need when we are back at work is to have a very fluid interaction with people who are working remotely,” Charbonneau said, adding more flexible spaces that can be converted for different reasons may need to be integrated. “We need the user experience interfaces to allow us to understand and communicate very fluidly with people that are virtual and with the office and that’s going to be very interesting.”

The other piece of this is smart building technologies such as creating a touchless space for users.

“It’s a combination of the two that will allow us to connect ourselves with our virtual colleagues and also just make the office a place of health and wellbeing,” she pointed out.

Workplaces will need to incorporate technology

Carlos Goncalves, senior designer associate with NORR Architects and Engineers, said NORR used a technology strategy to guide how it deals with staff and clients in the AEC industry.

“The steps taken are to enable global collaboration…to enable work from anywhere,” he said. “This applies to the workplace, it applies to schools, it applies to basically this freedom of being anywhere because of technology to enable data-driven decision-making.”

The ability to deliver digital content from anywhere will effectively liberate space, he added.

“We are seeing a continued blurring of the environments; the convergence of the live-work-play where the workplace has embraced a more residential feel, becoming less formal,” said Goncalves.

“With the reduced need for workstations and closed offices, the workplace will free itself from the traditional space demands and undergo a deepening transition to more flexible, technology-rich destinations that support collaboration. Importance will be placed on providing effective touchdown spaces, public and private meeting spaces that are able to support small groups and large communal townhalls. We see more multipurpose zones where different activities and teams come together.”

New buildings will prioritize user wellbeing

As a spec writer, Juste Fanou, founder of Bibliotech/JMF Technical, sees buildings moving towards prioritizing the health and wellbeing of the individual, whereas prior to COVID-19, initiatives such as LEED focused on the health of the environment.

“You have your commercial spaces which are trying to emulate or are trying to push the standard closer to what is being done in health care,” said Fanou. “There are more things that are going to start to focus on the health of the person who is inhabiting that building.”

He said things like indoor air quality and water quality will go from passive measures to active measures.

“Health, wellness, sustainability is not going to be a premium anymore. It’s going to be the norm,” Fanou said. “More clients are going to be willing to request it and that’s going to create healthy competition in the market and bring a lot of the price of these technologies down so that everybody can benefit.”

 

Follow the author on Twitter @DCN_Angela.

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