Flexibility is Key
Content by John Berendzen, AIA, and Dani Sheley, NCIDQ
Flexibility \ flex·i·bil·i·ty \ flek-sə-ˈbi-lə-tē \ noun. Definition: the quality of bending easily without breaking; the ability to be easily modified; willingness to change or compromise.
Flexibility in the workplace is not a new concept. Over the last decade, businesses have demanded a lot of the workplace and the spaces within it, tasking our profession with squeezing more people into less space. As organizations begin preparing for their return to the office, people are preparing new protocols and adapting their physical environments to follow recommended social distancing measures.
Common to today’s work environment, the open office plan provides individuals an assigned footprint surrounded by shared spaces like cafes, conference and focus rooms. With attention (and square footage) placed on shared spaces, individual footprints have decreased. Smart design recognizes that while personal workspaces are reduced, these shared spaces must expand to meet a variety of needs, from focus space to small and large collaboration zones.
As architects and designers, our first impulse is to change spaces to achieve project goals. With the current situation, the priority becomes studying behaviors to understand the human element then adapting spaces to meet these needs while still adhering to social distancing directives. In doing so, we must be cognizant of the perception of flexibility in terms of both space and time. Real changes will occur in how and when we use workspaces.
How organizations respond greatly depends on how flexible and adaptable they and their spaces were pre-pandemic.
When the Fox team initially designed our current office in 2013, a global pandemic was not a primary consideration. However, the thoughtfulness of the design and inherent flexibility of the space will make it relatively easy to adapt to today’s COVID-19 situation. Two side doors, in addition to the main entrance, provide options for entering the space, allowing people to follow social distancing directives and keep deliveries separate from staff traffic. In an open office footprint, supporting spaces are key to efficient daily operation. Two team rooms, open on two sides, occupy the center of the office, striking a balance between openness and privacy. As most of our project meetings are relatively small groups, these rooms will facilitate team communication while still meeting social distancing requirements.
For meetings requiring more than four participants, Fox will utilize the large conference room. Typically seating 12, we plan to limit the number to five or six individuals depending on how we engage the space around the perimeter.
Another consideration with social distancing directives is workstation occupation. The current benching system consists of groupings of six people in nominally 7’ x 7’ units. As we anticipate a return to working in the office, one option is to limit three people to a cluster, with one person situated opposite the other to maintain the recommended six-foot distance. Expecting some employees to continue remote work due to health concerns or childcare issues, this arrangement is both a feasible and sensible solution.
Implementing operational guidelines that support the architecture will assist keeping the workplace a safe place. Such considerations include requiring everyone to wear a face mask, implementing a hand washing station at our café sink, designating a greeting zone for deliveries with sanitizing wipes and separate waste containers, and executing new guidelines for daily cleaning. As the café is a natural gathering place for collaboration, celebration, and, of course, food, a strict social distancing plan will be instituted to keep staff the recommended six-feet apart. The sketch below details one possible arrangement.
At the end of the day, our office is more than a space in which we do work. It is a microcosm of society as a whole and serves as a powerful recruiting tool. With a 42-year history of creating spaces that transform how people work and live, Fox will continue to implement our client-centered approach to reimagine the post-COVID-19 workplace , including our own.