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Return to office plans are looking different these days. Senior Project Manager David Crowell discusses embracing the opportunity to reimagine work spaces in a post-Covid world. 

The open office workspace has always been an evolving concept, and now in a post-Covid world, the workspace environment has the potential to re-imagined once again. From open floor plans to traditional office spaces, corporate environments are all unique but now have one thing in common – the need to create a new standard for a safe, healthy, and collaborative workspace for end users and employees.

The trends we are beginning to see in the early phases of corporate offices re-opening a renewed look at the reconfiguration of the workstations in open office environments. the push for enclosed, hard-walled offices has declined, perhaps to be replaced with taller systems furniture and cubicles with demountable and flexible dividers based on team preferences that balances social distancing with team chemistry. One way to maintain team chemistry and accessibility is to a create swing space that can serve a variety of functions based on the needs of the end users and time of day – whether it be small group huddles or larger structured meetings. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution to a social distanced and collaborative office space for the immediate return to office, it is important that whatever changes are made are flexible both ways, so that when there is a vaccine and things return to normal, we can convert back to a dense work environment with lower separation.

As a general contractor, changes could come from collaboration with our MEP experts, which includes electrical and data requirements along with mechanical supply and exhaust. Spaces under-utilized in today’s world can use less energy, meaning taking advantage of lighting occupancy sensors and ensuring they are properly programmed and thermostats set appropriately in each zone. Air movement is another area we are seeing a change. Whether it is from greater circulation with fans or enhanced exhaust over work stations that cycles it through the mechanical system with better air filters than was previously typical, the need for greater circulation for germ prevention and air flow is steadily increasing. This needs to be balanced with end user thermal comfort as well, so a collaborative approach with mechanical engineers will ensure this is achieved. Some initial solutions include dedicated exhaust over cubicle banks, negative air areas, and higher-rated MERV filters.

Early fit-up is another impact to office construction or retrofitting post-Covid. The sooner we can invite the furniture vendors and folks that need to install the end user’s equipment and supplies, the better it is for the project finishing on time and to meeting the standards and specific preferences of the team that will use the space. One example is prioritizing the installation of open office carpet so that furniture spines can be set in advance to allow maximum time for workstation installation by the furniture vendor as employees return to the office. Coordinating power feeds, lighting, cable management, move-in logistics, and conference room layouts are some of the details teams must work through to deliver a safe and healthy work environment.

While each company’s return to office plan and the space itself look a little different, the creative solutions and innovative adaptations teams employ today will ensure a safer work environment tomorrow.