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In Q1 of 2019, more than 2.8 million square feet of office space were under construction in Los Angeles. LA office space seekers are likely accustomed to reading office building highlights like “newly renovated kitchens,” “three service elevators,” and “large conference rooms.” Now that COVID-19 has made its entrance, are we going to start seeing office building amenities like “private offices for every employee,” “floor-to-ceiling glass dividers between every desk,” and “bathrooms that allow social distancing?”
In light of the pandemic, most people are assuming “that the open office is over, [but] there’s a bunch of different things that that means,” said Amol Sarva, CEO of office interior design firm Knotel.
At the start of the pandemic, most or all nonessential workers across the country began working from home. Now that it’s been a few months, architects and builders have the opportunity to adjust office building layouts to meet business needs amid the coronavirus pandemic. After all, currently, approximately “70% of U.S offices have no or low partitions, according to the International Facility Management Association,” Lindsey Kaufman writes for The Washington Post.
Let’s consider some of the architectural and design-related changes we might see in office buildings in Los Angeles.
Fewer Desks, More Comfortable Furniture
In most LA office spaces, it is expected that each employee will have his or her own desk. Now, however, lots of people are working from home or working flexible hours. That means that many workers are getting their individual work done at home. When they’re in the office, they expect to spend most of their time collaborating with and meeting with coworkers.
“I am moving two-thirds of the desks out of the office, and it will be more of a meeting place,” said Thom Mayne, a Pritzker Prize-winning architect. “We need couches and tables and comfortable chairs instead of just desks.”
In Houston, some companies have begun to shift away from leasing one large office building for all employees in favor of leasing several smaller satellite offices where employees can work flexible shifts. That way, employees can interact with far fewer other people on a day to day basis, reducing the likelihood of transmitting or contracting COVID-19.
“. . . with companies seeing that work still gets done when everyone isn’t in the same office, more employers could abandon the idea of one centralized office and instead set up multiple smaller offices,” Christie Moffat writes for Bisnow.
If LA business owners adopt a similar mindset, we might begin to see smaller office floor plans more frequently.
The 6 Feet Office
Health experts have recommended that people practice social distancing—that is, remain at least six feet apart from other people—but it can be difficult to remember to do that at all times. Cushman & Wakefield has created the 6 Feet Office Project, which involves using the design of the office to help people successfully maintain social distancing. Despina Katsikakis, the head of Cushman’s occupier business performance, said that the Six Feet Office has already been implemented in the company’s Amsterdam headquarters. Katsikakis says offices around the world are likely to implement the 6 Feet Office.
The 6 Feet Office Concept involves fully equipped work stations that have everything employees need so that they won’t need to move around the office as much; brightly colored carpet markings and signs directing foot traffic within the office, and a trained employee whose job it is to maintain a safe office environment. Read more about the 6 Feet Office Concept here.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have offered tips for improving air ventilation in existing office buildings, such as increasing outdoor air ventilation and ensuring ventilation systems work effectively. However, architects designing new office buildings can create office plans that optimize airflow. This might involve making sure the building has lots of large windows, building outdoor areas like balconies, and optimizing the design for the installation of the newest ventilation systems.
Apartments Optimized for Home Offices
According to a study by University of Chicago researchers, 37 percent of U.S. jobs can be done remotely. Because not all businesses will have the wherewithal to move into a newly designed office building put together with COVID-19 in mind, many employees will prepare to work from home long term. This trend may cause architects to rethink apartment designs as well. For example, global architecture firm Woods Bagot has created a versatile living system called “AD-APT” that is designed to support a WFH (work from home) setup, accommodating “spaces for exercise, entertainment, digital collaboration, connection, and focus . . . alongside the traditional activities of eating, sleeping, and washing,” Matt Hickman writes for The Architect’s Newspaper.
“The AD-APT includes an entry porch which provides both an opportunity to meet and stay in touch with your neighbors and additional storage for bikes, coats and shoes,” Woods Bagot told Hickman. “Around the entire apartment extensive storage is provided to allow for filing/appliances and other materials needed to blend living, working, and learning.”
Past pandemics, like the bubonic plague and Yellow fever, have “forced architecture and city planning to evolve,” Sam Lubell, architectural author and curator, said. Though businesses using existing buildings in LA will have to adapt the setup they have, new office buildings may offer new opportunities to collaborate in an even healthier environment.
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