Expert’s Guide to the Post-Pandemic Office

Posted on January 12th, 2021

What will office spaces and facilities look like after COVID-19?

To get an idea, we pored through dozens of articles about post-pandemic office space from business, real estate, architectural, office design, construction, health and safety experts. While there are many areas of agreement on how to keep offices safe, there are also some surprising areas where the experts’ opinions diverge. The following details the features of the post-pandemic office and describes a number of not-so-common ideas.

The Post-Pandemic Office

The differences between pre- and post-pandemic office spaces are driven by the employees’ changed attitudes about personal health and safety as well as the employer’s need to avoid costly office-caused infections. Besides the physical changes, many behavioral changes such as no crowded elevators, observing directional and safe distancing signs and frequently disinfecting everything will also be necessary. One thing the experts do not address is how safety-related behaviors might be enforced.

The experts all agree that the post-pandemic office will include a variety of protective barriers, appropriate distancing between employees and what is termed “dedensification”. For decades, desk and cubical spaces have been reduced while adding more collaborative and communal work areas. COVID-19 has reversed the trend of putting people in close proximity to the point of substantially reducing the number of people in an area at any time by staggering work times or implementing work-at-home plans. Curiously, some experts claim the pandemic marks the end of the open office plan while others conclude the open office simply needs some modifications and rearrangement.

One point of total agreement among the experts is the need, both psychologically and literally, for fresh, clean air. The consensus is for having at least MERV 14 filters, active humidity control, maximum outdoor air and operable windows. Bipolar ionization and UV germicidal irradiation were also mentioned a number of times.

None of the articles reviewed presents a detailed list, however, all conclude that “touchable” surfaces should be made “contactless”, where possible, or made of non-porous and bleach-safe materials that are cleaned, as necessary. Some experts strongly advocate for technological solutions such as voice, smartphone, motion-sensor or facial recognition controls for such “touchables” as light/dimmer switches, thermostats, blinds, doors, elevators, faucets, toilets and A/V controls. Disposable, recyclable and self-disinfecting covers and mats are recommended for desks, tables, door handles and other surfaces where touching is unavoidable.

Furthermore, it is recommended that anything resembling sharing must be avoided. Various experts call for individual laptops, individual company phones and office supplies such that shared desks would be barren save for a disposable cover. One article even suggests that employees check-in prior to entering the building to be assigned to or to reserve a disinfected office.

Other Suggestions

It seems that every expert has at least one uncommon recommendation to make about the post-pandemic office. Following are some of these:

  • Creating outdoor, roof-top or terrace meeting spaces
  • Upgrading Building Management Systems (BMS) and IoT to decrease infection points
  • Directional arrows and safe distancing and safe standing areas marked on floors
  • Regularly communicate to employees about safety measures taken
  • Use biophilic designs such as plants, light, water, natural air movement, wood, earth, etc.
  • Replace water drinking fountains with bottle refill stations
  • Eliminating or replacing large kitchens and communal refrigerators with more smaller ones
  • Permit eating in the workspace or providing well-partitioned and spaced eating areas
  • Use naturally antimicrobial copper rather than stainless steel or plastic

Post-Pandemic Challenges

For business owners, work-at-home and hybrid office arrangements pose a major security challenge. Employee laptops are subject to loss or theft, and home computers and networks are often far less secure than those in-office. This situation adds to the complexity of post-pandemic office space arrangements. According to the experts, some businesses are addressing security and dedensification challenges through the short or long-term leasing of readily available nearby space.

Interestingly, all of this leads to one of the biggest challenges none of the experts address namely substantially increased energy costs. In fairness, none of the articles reviewed mentions anything about the cost for any of the solutions proposed. There is no doubt, however, that energy prices will increase, and post-pandemic office solutions are very likely to significantly increase energy consumption. Maximizing outdoor air, operable windows, increased filtration, portable air filtration units, added indoor air quality devices and more automated systems all increase energy consumption. Moreover, dedensification and consequently leasing more space also contribute to increased energy consumption.

Seeking Solutions

Partitions, signs and water refill stations may be one-time costs for the post-pandemic office, but energy costs are always ongoing. As you develop solutions for your workspaces going forward, call on the experts at ENGIE MEP Services to help keep your employees feeling and being safe and healthy without having energy expenses skyrocket. Contact ENGIE MEP Services today to learn how you might start your post-pandemic ventilation/HVAC modifications without the need for CapEx.