What are your thoughts on how office interior design will change to adapt to the pandemic? To put it more simply, what design trends are you anticipating as a result of COVID?
At the beginning, there was so much uncertainty in terms of what COVID meant for offices. Leases were expensive, but it wasn’t safe to be in the office. People were really anxious, but as things started to come around, and we settled into a “new normal,” everyone realized there needed to be a plan to come back.
My company ended up organizing a survey to gauge companies’ and employees’ interest in returning to the office. The general consensus was that people strongly wanted to come back, but that things would look different—coming in three days a week, for example. It was clear that we needed to make plans for both the short and long term. This has led us to consider temporary solutions, like plexiglass and panels, but we know that those won’t be long-lasting. We also are envisioning the new normal for the next two-to-five years: for example, how to keep a six-foot bubble around employees. It’s really all about working with the existing space.
We’ve also been creating schedules for staffing, to keep rotating shifts. It’s sad to see that at least in the short term, we’re going to have to close social spaces like the dining area at cafeterias. In terms of new projects, the key factor is flexibility and function. For example, utilizing things that can be pulled apart—replacing sofas with chairs, using freestanding panels like whiteboards, or acoustic panels. These pieces will help stop the spread of germs, but they also can be functional in other ways. So, it’s not just about “flexibility” in terms of mindset—we mean it quite literally.
We’re also putting a lot more consideration into surfaces—our clients are interested in things that are easy to clean. While COVID is an airborne disease that doesn’t live long on surfaces, these types of changes help make employees feel comfortable about their space. Ultimately, the goal is to create spaces that make employees feel excited to come back into the office.