How to Create Safer Amenities

The Role of Gathering Places in the Era of COVID-19 and What Not to Lose Sight of in the Process

May 5, 2020

Principal, NBBJ

Editor’s Note: This post was co-authored by Matthew SomertonChris Beza and Paula Buick.

 

The massive remote work experiment precipitated by the pandemic underscores an important point — “heads-down” work can be done effectively from home for many people. Yet there is also recognition that in-person relationships play a critical role in team dynamics and overall effectiveness that can’t be emulated through remote work. In The Village Effect, author Susan Pinker argues that face-to-face personal relationships largely determine our health and performance. This is especially true for knowledge workers, the fastest growing segment of the workforce, who generally require heads-down and in-person collaboration in their work.

These developments will likely accelerate the “pass through” office, where people gather in-person to connect, ideate and socialize, but do focused individual work at home. Amenities are a crucial part of this shift. For some companies, especially in tech, amenities already comprise roughly 50% of their footprint, a number that will likely grow for other industries, too. In this light, it is no longer useful to treat amenities and workplace as distinct entities. Amenities, as social and collaborative gathering spaces, are in fact the new workplace.

With these ideas in mind, there are two important areas to consider in designing amenities: requirements for safety and meeting strategic future needs:

 

Making Amenities Safer

One major challenge is obvious: infection risks increase with social density. While basic measures like cleanings, masks and hand sanitizer will play a critical role in how these spaces are safely used, there are other strategies which may be employed to reduce the risk of infection:

Supporting Safe Behaviors

Amenity spaces are by their nature informal and flexible, but it may be useful to introduce a few parameters to help people use them. For example, designating more intentional arrival points to amenity spaces, where hand sanitizer or other hygienic supplies are located, can help. Additionally, furniture and fixtures can be fixed to the floor to support social distancing, taking care to maintain natural feeling arrangements that still feel intimate.

Localized Teams and Amenities

Companies could adopt a more compartmentalized workplace approach that groups 6-8 employees dedicated to a single project together. This type of work arrangement requires smaller shared work areas that may serve as a safer alternative to open workstations of dozens or even hundreds of employees. These types of spaces could be carved out within amenity areas and may be more comfortable for workers, as they’re familiar with their close colleagues, the hygienic precautions they are taking and have more control over their work areas.

Improving Indoor Air Quality

The pandemic has heightened interest in air handling approaches, but indoor air quality has long been known to have a demonstrable impact on workplace performance, productivity and health. In general, natural air change through operable windows and the creation of negative pressure by moving more clean air into a room are both effective strategies, and these may be augmented by the use of UV light and HEPA filters to clean air. Companies may also choose to incorporate digital displays that illustrate indoor air quality to help assuage anxieties.

Sensor-based and Touchless Technologies

Smart sensors can be used to alert people when a room has exceeded its recommended social density. These sensors could also be used for other purposes like identifying the best spaces for work based on the noise level, brightness and temperature. Touchless technologies on doors, elevators and other building elements can also reduce the risk of contact infection in more highly trafficked common areas. Medical device companies have pioneered a number of innovative touchless technologies to reduce infection, improve security and help people living with physical impairments, some of which could potentially be used in novel workplace setups.

 

Designing Amenities to Meet People’s Needs

With contact tracing, increased testing, and more effective treatments the threat of coronavirus will eventually recede, enabling people to feel more comfortable in group spaces. Beyond the scope of the pandemic, amenities will need to be responsive to people’s broader needs and desires in spaces that may last for generations. There are several ideas to consider when thinking about how amenity spaces can best achieve these needs:

Determining the Right Scale

Massive amenity spaces like dining halls, while common in large corporate settings, are frequently impersonal spaces that hold little appeal as an alternate work location. Smaller, authentic feeling spaces like cafes are often more conducive to work – both as people are eating, but throughout the day as well. These amenities can be made more convenient by distributing them throughout the workplace rather than concentrating them in one area. If larger spaces are required, care should be taken to break them up into clusters of more human-scaled settings, which creates more flexibility and makes even large gatherings feel more intimate.

“Whole Life” Amenities

Workplace amenities have evolved over time from places intended for socializing like game rooms, to spaces meant for collaboration and innovation such as maker spaces and meeting lounges. Now, the focus of amenity spaces is increasingly shifting more toward shared activities and learning opportunities that are also rewarding and enriching on a personal level. This may encompass programming like horticultural therapy or dance and yoga classes. Frequently whole life amenities are accessible to the public as well as staff and support a more holistic sense of wellness. While public access is not practical or desirable in the current crisis, it is worthwhile to consider how amenities may transition to a more public-facing stance as the pandemic recedes.

Neighborhood Integration

Amenities can connect workers not just with each other but also with the surrounding community, particularly when the amenities are situated at street level and open to the public. This will gradually become more feasible after the immediate pandemic threat has faded. The more the line between amenity space, workplace and the neighborhood is blurred, the more staff can feel like an authentic part of the community. By curating smaller, more distinct offerings, street level amenities can serve as an inviting extension of the surrounding area rather than as a psychological buffer between a workplace and the public. Where space is limited, dual use spaces that might be used as a conference room during the day and a space for public programs or community college classes at night may be an option.

Connecting to Nature

People have an intrinsic affinity for natural settings and research demonstrates that workplaces that provide a connection to nature are healthier and more creative and productive. Natural light, views of nature and amenities like greenways, parks, planted courtyards and gardens can all tangibly improve the quality of the workday. Access to nature may be particularly relevant now, as the pandemic has increased stress levels and concerns about indoor air quality. In this environment, natural settings can serve as a place of respite and relative peace.

With work tilting towards a more distributed network of at least semi-remote employees, the purpose of amenities remains the same—to bring people together and keep the conversation going. While there are health and safety concerns that need to be addressed in light of the pandemic, it is important not to neglect the vital role amenities play in creating more dynamic, collaborative workplaces that respond to people’s deeper needs for connection and community. Safer amenities which blur the boundaries between workplace, neighborhood, and the outdoors can lead the way in creating better work environments through the current crisis and beyond.

 

How are you and your organization dealing with the coronavirus? We’d like to hear from you. Drop us a line at socialmedia@nbbj.com.

Banner image courtesy Timothy Soar.

 

Share this:  envelope facebook twitter googleplus tumblr linkedin
Comment Follow nbbX

Rethinking Commercial Lobbies During the Pandemic

Five Design Considerations to Make Office Lobbies Safer and More Welcoming

May 1, 2020

Partner, NBBJ

Editor’s Note: This post was co-authored by Tim Johnson, Stuart Fox and Paula Buick.

 

With states gradually seeking to lift shelter-in-place laws, developers are instituting phased strategies for reopening their buildings in a safe and hygienic manner. While many states moving quickly to reopen have issued mandatory guidelines for workplace safety, anxiety about workplace infection remains high – a recent informal survey found that 81% of employees do not feel safe about returning to the office. Given this context, workplaces need to not only adhere to infection control protocols but also instill a palpable sense of safety and assurance in the people using the space.

Commercial office lobbies are a crucial element in establishing a safer, more uplifting work environment, as they are the primary means for entering a building. They are a logical space for deploying and highlighting new hygienic measures and protocols, as well as creating an atmosphere that reassures and informs tenants. To add to the complexity, these measures are more challenging to implement in multi-tenant buildings, where numerous policies on guests, package drop-off and lobby use have to be coordinated across multiple companies.

Given the potential complexities of this task, here are five design considerations building owners and operators should take into account as they rethink lobby areas.

 

Visible Safety Measures

There are a number of safety measures and protocols which can be deployed in lobby spaces to control the spread of infection. These include obvious but effective protocols like regular cleanings and the provision of hand sanitizer, gloves and masks. But there are also more advanced solutions that are also beneficial beyond COVID-19, including lobbies that use proximity badges to maintain healthy density levels, screening kiosks, improved air handling including filtration and air exchange, and touchless technology on doors and elevators, potentially using facial recognition, to reduce the risk of contact infection. Buildings could even implement an express lane for pre-screened individuals using a QR code or use entry/exit sensors to detect occupancy levels in the elevators and office floors.

It is important from a psychosocial perspective that these safety and health measures are visible to building tenants in order to reinforce the sense that the building is a safe, well managed environment. In the current context, conspicuous measures like health screenings in lobbies, time lapse videos showing cleanings, and even digital visualizations monitoring air quality in the building may help put tenants’ minds at ease.

 

Signage and Wayfinding

Signage and wayfinding play a critical role in getting tenants where they need to go and keeping them informed of new building safety and hygiene protocols. Lobbies will likely be the primary access point for building tenants, but other means will have to remain open for evacuation and fire safety purposes. Signage should clearly inform tenants which entrances and exits are to be used, and which are strictly for emergencies, so that everyone accessing the building goes through the necessary security and screening points.

Signage should be clear, concise and uniformly deployed in the lobby as well as throughout the building. Uncommon colors like pink may help important messages stand out, along with simple language and intuitive icons. In addition to wayfinding, signage can reinforce important protocols, informing tenants about handwashing, social distancing and other important infection control elements.  It can be playful, catchy or fun, reinforcing positive messages like “we can do this,” which can serve to assuage anxieties and make important information more memorable. It is also important to strike the right balance in terms of the amount of signage used—too little signage is ambiguous, while too much is confusing and can conversely create the subjective impression that a space is unsafe.

 

Digital Media and Messaging

The projected increase in queueing in the lobby due to potential health screenings or elevator bottlenecks may represent an opportunity to incorporate monitors and digital signage for entertainment and real-time information purposes. Digital displays can provide important facility information such as shared and tenant-specific building policies as well as recent changes, which may be particularly useful in multi-tenant buildings, or provide information on queuing times.

Displays can also serve a broader role as forums for sharing news about the immediate neighborhood, such as information on public transit or which restaurants have re-opened or are delivering. They can additionally be used to field and answer questions from building occupants, sharing relevant information with tenants as they queue and reinforcing the sense that the building’s management is aware of and responding to concerns. This can play a critical role in helping people feel more comfortable in their environment. Digital signage could also provide elements of inspiration, distraction or connection, like turning the color blue when other landmarks in the city do so to honor healthcare workers.

 

Elevators and Stairs

Getting to the office may be a major bottleneck in commercial office buildings, given the need to adhere to social distancing measures. A standard passenger elevator is 6’ x 6,’ which could theoretically accommodate four individuals at each corner while barely maintaining minimum social distancing guidelines. Though office buildings will likely, at least initially, have significantly lower occupancy as a large portion of people continue to work from home, there will still be a need for queueing at 6’ intervals or other measures to relieve social density as people wait for elevators.

For tenants on lower floors, stairs are alternate option. If this becomes a major traffic area, rules can be established about passing, entering and exiting so that social distancing can be maintained. Another consideration is that people may be reluctant to use the handrail for hygienic purposes, which could increase the possibility of falls.

 

Staging Arrivals and Exits

Given the trend towards increasing office densification, a high-rise office building might have several thousand occupants arriving and departing the building during peak commute periods. Queuing for elevators during these peak periods while maintaining social distancing protocols could quickly become impractical due to space limitations.

In order to lessen social density in the lobby during high traffic periods, it may be necessary to stage arrivals and exits. This may need to be developed in coordination with mass transit, which will likely need to use staggered arrivals and departures. For single tenant buildings an employer can develop a company policy, but for multi-tenant buildings this can potentially be done via a phone app, which provides companies or individuals with scheduled arrival and departure slots to minimize the number of people using the lobby at any given time. Such functionality could be built onto existing smart building apps frequently used to manage building security, services, comfort levels and other facility-related issues.

As people gradually return to the office, building owners and managers will face a number of challenges in ensuring the safety and wellbeing of their tenants. Lobbies are an important space in this regard, as highly trafficked, highly visible places that transition people from the surrounding neighborhood to their workplace. While the logistical issues of maintaining security and safety during the pandemic are apparent, there are also notable opportunities in lobbies for creating more welcoming, responsive environments that more deeply connect people with the buildings they use.

 

How are you and your organization dealing with the coronavirus? We’d like to hear from you. Drop us a line at socialmedia@nbbj.com.

Banner image courtesy Sean Airhart.

Share this:  envelope facebook twitter googleplus tumblr linkedin
Comment Follow nbbX

How the Coronavirus Could Accelerate Technology in the Workplace

From automation to kinetic infrastructure, five technologies that will define the brave new office

April 29, 2020

Partner, NBBJ

Editor’s Note: This post was co-authored by Robert Mankin and Layne Braunstein.

 

As the coronavirus lessens its grip in some areas, our offices will be one of the first places we go back to — and it will be an ever more critical space for us to socialize, ideate, connect and meet. For many companies, the workplace will no longer be a place for heads-down tasks that we can accomplish from home, but will instead serve as a “passthrough office,” one which prioritizes spaces for group work.

At the same time, the virus is also accelerating preexisting technological trends that will support this transformation, freeing us to reevaluate what matters in the office, such as deeper collaboration, meaningful personal connections and increased creativity. The office will evolve into a place of fulfillment rather than just a place of work, and “office culture,” for many individuals, will become their social outlet.

Here are a few ways the pandemic could accelerate technology in the office:

 

Kinetic Infrastructure

What is it? Hyper-flexible offices that shape-shift on command, to meet employee and team preferences — and evolve to address long-term business goals.

Why does it matter? As people return to the office, the great “work from home experiment” shows that many are productive in a variety of environments, and even shift how they work throughout the day, thus creating a need for more flexible office infrastructure. While current building apps can allow employees to find areas in their office with their preferred environment (temperature, lighting, etc.) the kinetic office concept takes the smart workplace even further: rather than employees adapting to the building, the building adapts to each employee’s needs and an organization’s business priorities.

What could it look like? Employees can easily and rapidly adjust workstations, expand or contract common areas and meeting rooms, remove or add interior walls and partitions, as well as use software to tailor the air temperature, ventilation, lighting and noise levels to create the perfect work environment. Moreover, flexible infrastructure will create a framework to accommodate current technology and integrate those not invented yet into the workplace in the future.

Smart Furniture: Nissan introduced a “self-parking” conference chair in 2016, which may provide a glimpse into how this could work on a furniture level in offices. Similar to the technology in self-parking vehicles, the chair’s position is detected by a series of sensors, which then help to guide it back to its “parked” position. As autonomous vehicles become more reliable and prevalent — and as 5G becomes more affordably integrated into buildings — this technology could be more broadly applied to furniture systems, and even room partitions, in an office.  The potential is tremendous, from automating basic janitorial services to rapidly reconfiguring rooms for events or new uses.

Hyper-Customized Experience: Our offices may automatically flex and contract to the workforce more deliberately on an experiential level. Like our smartphones and homes, our workstations should express our personal preferences in real-time. We need to “own” our experiences. Every office element should adjust — not just the physical space — to reflect our moods: from music to lighting to interactive graphic presentation preferences.

 

Automation

What is it?  Automation — artificial intelligence, machine learning, and robotics that complete routine cognitive and physical tasks typically carried out by people in their work — may become more prevalent in the office.

The COVID-19 pandemic will accelerate this trend, as ensuring both human safety and maintaining business function will become the main market drivers.

Why does it matter? Technology is a means of convenience, to offload the trivial or tedious, so we can focus more on what matters in the workplace. The office could become a place where jobs that prioritize high value tasks, such as critical thinking, creativity, and social skills, become even more essential. This could also open up opportunities for other types of employment. “A new category of knowledge-enabled jobs will become possible as machines embed intelligence and knowledge that less-skilled workers can access with a little training,” writes the McKinsey Global Institute on the future of tech and work.

What could it look like? Automation is not just robots. For the office, much of the automation may be software-based, and physically located beyond the office. Areas where we see automation having near term impacts in the workplace are:

Routine Tasks: Any routine work, regardless of profession, is now subject to automation. Some of the most highly compensated and skilled professions, such as accounting, trading, legal and medical (surgical), will be subject to significant automation in the coming 10-15 years.  Because of the rapid nature of adoption, offices will need to be more flexible and customizable to deal with changing departmental needs, and accommodate new business lines as they emerge.

Data Centers: Experts predict that by 2025, we’ll create 163 zettabytes of digital data worldwide. For data to be more effectively harnessed to improve machine learning and automated technologies, there must be a corresponding investment in data centers and technology infrastructure to support this shift. A trend we already see in our work in both Korea and China is that the first phase of any new corporate campus is a large data center, with an additional one or two phases of future expansion.

Mindful Balance: As artificial intelligence takes over more aspects of our work, it provides a chance for us to step back to address how we add to our work and our lives. It can be humbling, but also freeing, for AI to do the work that we have been doing for years. This is happening already in certain fields. In generative media, time-intensive hand-drawn digital animations can be carried out via AI, so now a designer can focus more on the story, then set up a basic ecosystem and let the AI run. While this might seem unsettling, it can be a new beginning for balance, where there are no true work hours anymore. Instead, AI could deploy our ideas — developed at any time — into projects, freeing us from the typical 9-5 schedule to focus on a more meaningful career and life.

 

Touchless Technology

What is it? Seamless hands-free technology that allows employees and visitors to move through a building and experience interactive graphics without touching communal, shared surfaces.

Why does it matter? As cleanliness and sanitization are at the forefront of everyone’s minds during the pandemic, this could provide an obvious, yet critical way to address infection prevention by minimizing the transmission of viruses and bacteria.

What would it look like? Interactive graphics, as well as doors, lights, windows, blinds, bathrooms and other building components would be fully hands-free via smart technology embedded into architecture and building systems.

Security: Security will continue to be ever more invisible and seamless. This is an important step in the experience of many urban campuses, as the security checkpoint is a place of human interaction and touch — not to mention invasive in many cases, with magnetometers and other scanning devices. This may evolve to not only be hands-free, but also more pleasant for visitors and employees alike.

An Extension of Brand: A company’s policy of cleanliness, and how their workplace design and operations support it, will become an important part of their external brand, and a potential attractor for talent.

Universal Language for Natural User Interfaces: A challenge in adopting natural user interfaces controlled by touchless motion is in the learning curve, to memorize all of the steps needed to communicate with an interface. Yet, like the standard gestures we use on our smartphones, interactive graphics in buildings may finally adopt universal touchless gestures to make this adoption easier, spurred by the urgent need to be hands-free in public spaces due to the pandemic.

 

Sensors, Sensors, Everywhere

What is it? Sensors in buildings can track occupants’ motions and proximity, as well as temperature, humidity, air quality, lighting levels, electrical usage and more.

Why does it matter? Sensors embedded in ceilings, building products and other areas would help offices stay smart, improve employee wellness and communicate data, like sustainability metrics, to facilities and employees.

What could it look like? While currently implemented in interactive digital displays as well as retail experiences like AmazonGo stores, the next generation of sensors in offices could provide not only engaging experiences for employees, clients and visitors, but also streamline logistics,  target in-person and robotic cleaning protocols, determine conference room availability, remind employees to take a break, calculate office supply inventories and facilitate orders, and even tune circadian lighting.

Personalization and Storytelling: Sensors play a critical role in the modern workplace experience. In our projects, we use sensors to personalize a space and help tell a story. For example, we can adjust an experience to “see” clothing colors, body heat, brain waves and kinetic motion and analyze this information to create personalized mood-driven visuals. Artificial intelligence today is highly-advanced: it can even detect what people are holding or carrying, for example, the type of handbag, a pen or pencil, etc., and adjust based on an individual’s taste. As more people welcome sensors into their work lives, as they do at home, our offices will adjust throughout the day, tailored to our preferences and moods.

 

Customized Augmented Reality Experiences

What is it? Not just for previewing 3D architecture designs, augmented reality custom-built into our offices could become the new way we connect with teams, clients and collaborators around the world.

Why does it matter? With teams dispersed across the globe more than ever before, our future offices could primarily serve as hubs for connecting in person, but also provide high-fidelity virtual collaboration tools.

What could it look like? Augmented reality is the future of… everything. Deployed in conference rooms and common areas, but also via wearables, here are a few possible trends:

Travel Replacement: The coronavirus has substantially restricted business travel, particularly internationally, and travel reductions may likely continue for several years driven by health concerns as well as cost considerations. Advancements in sophisticated augmented reality tools for the office may be critical to support collaboration of dispersed teams and clients on a global level.

Wearables: By 2030, we may all wear augmented reality glasses that look just like regular glasses. In our offices, this could create an entirely new layer of reality on top of what we see every day — from clothes that can be changed to adapt to a meeting’s purpose, to virtual collaboration buddies and workspaces. The common areas in our offices will need physical and virtual layouts to accommodate this blend in our work lives — and to attract talent. This isn’t some far-off future. It’s happening now. And this current pandemic is just accelerating these technologies, not creating them.

 

In Other Words…

As the coronavirus crisis changes the way we work, the role of technology in the workplace will accelerate. Technology can help us have more fulfilling careers and comfortable work environments: it can provide a high-degree of customization, help us be more productive and spark creativity — as well as connect with teams and clients in a more meaningful way.

 

How are you and your organization dealing with the coronavirus? We’d like to hear from you. Drop us a line at socialmedia@nbbj.com.

Banner image courtesy © Your123 

.

Share this:  envelope facebook twitter googleplus tumblr linkedin
Comment Follow nbbX
Next Page »

Follow nbbX