Back To Work: Redesigning The Office Workspace

Back To Work: Redesigning The Office Workspace
Designing the "new" workspace means reminding workers that COVID-19 is invisible, but still here.

For a lot of us, this is a familiar look: working from home. But as businesses reopen, how will corporate workspaces be redesigned for workers to come back in the middle of the pandemic? 

Instead of manual temperature checks, thermal cameras. 

Nick Dubak, chief operating officer, Dubak Electrical Group: "There's no stopping. There's no temperature guns. There's none of that uncomfortable type of a protocol that we've seen today."

Chicago-based Dubak Electrical Group says they've installed over 172 of their thermal cameras in buildings around the country. It can detect a person's temperature within 30 milliseconds and monitor about 800 people in an hour in a single lane.  

Dubak: "The new thermostat is a fully integrated body temperature measurement system that operates strictly with an AI facial detection profile which measures your temperature between your chin and your forehead. … It will put a green box or a red box around the individual's face as they migrate through a point of entry." 

A red box indicates a high temperature, and the monitoring staff is alerted. And when you get to the elevator, it might be contactless, where cellphone apps or fobs are used to let the elevator know which floor to stop. 

Rachel Casanova, senior managing director of workplace innovation, Cushman and Wakefield: "None of these offices that will be reoccupied are starting from a blank canvas. They exist. So what we're doing is we're retrofitting and we're applying those concepts.

It's also more than just design. The companies I've spoken to say it's about different operational systems working together and communicating.

Casanova: "Ensuring that the cleanliness of clean desks is the priority and that to the communication issue that there's notification that something has been cleaned."

Limiting the number of on-site employees and staggered work times can help reduce office density. The other side of that is getting employees to mentally prepare to come back to work. 

Karon Woodcock, director change management, Cushman & Wakefield: "The employers have to make sure that they put together a detailed change management plan and communications to provide those employees with the information so that they have what they need when they walk in day one."

James Ludwig, president of global design and engineering, Steelcase: "This is an invisible threat. And what design can do and needs to do is make that threat visible. … I think the fundamental question is, how do you solve for the problem and have it be centered around the people, not the virus?"

James Ludwig leads furniture company Steelcase. He predicts flexible furniture designs that allow for social distancing when needed and the ability to rearrange when not.

Ludwig: "We're really focused on the now and potentially the near. One thing I find intriguing is that as some of these large customers of ours have declared they're going to have their people work at home through the end of the year. … So it's opening up possibilities and opportunities."

Ludwig recommends safe office spaces where individuals can take a break and go mask-free after wearing them all day. 

Cat Sandoval, Newsy, Chicago.