Office Design Trends for a Future of Distancing

Office Design Trends for a Future of DistancingEven though Minnesota may be more cautious about reopening business than some other states, Minnesotans may be ahead in studying how to reopen.

New Strategies for Making the Workplace Safe

The Mayo Clinic's Well Living Lab is situated adjacent to the Mayo campus in Rochester, and it is a center of activity. The facility is "uniquely positioned," according to Mayo Clinic cardiologist Dr. Veronique Roger, who also serves as the lab's director of research. By simulating office environments in the lab, she believes the confluence of "building and health science technologies and expertise" will generate knowledge that can prepare safe environments.

The research focus centers around how to best decontaminate surfaces, employ thermal screening at entrances and minimize the circulation of air particulates. Additionally, researchers hope to track employee performance, satisfaction and emotional resiliency. In addition to the laboratory studies of simulated office settings, strategies and possible solutions will be tested at the corporate offices of three cooperating firms.

Air filtration, surface hygiene and innovative software designed to promote behavioral changes will be tested by Delos, a real estate technology company based in New York. The Houston-based real estate firm Hines will contribute data and expertise from key executives on the topics of innovation and property management, engineering and development. The Chicago offices of real estate giant Cushman & Wakefield will become the third "real-world" workplace, with the focus on workplace design, strategies and standards for effective physical distancing in the workplace.

Healthy Buildings, Healthy Workers

There has always been widespread interest in and emphasis on making buildings a healthier environment. As architects and productivity experts began to study buildings from the standpoint of environmental sustainability several decades ago, it became clear that workspace excellence contributed to employee satisfaction and led to better performance, fewer lost days, and higher return on investment. It is a win for everyone involved, including new offices, factories, and schools.

There is no disputing the facts: The built environment, particularly buildings where people spend a lot of time in enclosed areas, has a great impact on health and happiness and affects cognitive functions as well. A new book, "Healthy Buildings," by two pioneers of the healthy building movement, Joseph Allen and John Macomber, both of Harvard, drive home the point in a compelling way, especially for the post-pandemic world. Allen is director of Harvard's Healthy Buildings Program in the School of Public Health, while Macomber is a recognized expert on urban resilience at Harvard Business School.

Their "9 Foundations of a Healthy Building," detailed in the book, move beyond recommendations of the green building movement and offer a sort of blueprint for tracking the "performance indicators" of a building. The authors note that buildings can expose people to disease, but they add that buildings can also protect against disease. The authors outline ways that business owners and building officials can prioritize the most "important and vulnerable asset of any building: its people."

Specifically, this distinctive "how-to" book details some relatively simple ideas that can improve the indoor environment: things like ventilation and humidity, lighting and noise control, and limited use of chemicals. Other experts address the importance of direct access to the outdoors, views, greenery, open space and color.

Paul Scialla, founder and CEO of Delos, echoes those issues. “We know that buildings have a tremendous impact on our health and well-being, and the role of indoor spaces has now become more important than ever,” he notes. In contemplating the reopening of offices, he says it is “critical that we take an evidence-based approach to make our workspaces safer when we return."

Great Offices Also Boast New Amenities

Almost everyone acknowledges that getting back to work is vital for the future of the economy. And others confirm that getting back to business is important for both the mental health and physical well-being of the workforce. For that reason, the workplace of the future may well look very different from the "normal" of the past.

Some of the more innovative office trends in the Twin Cities feature flexible workspaces, roof decks, acoustic ceiling tiles, common areas and game rooms, lounges, running tracks, meditation spaces, workout rooms and nap spaces, in addition to the more standard amenities like kitchens and coffee bars.

The Baker Center in downtown Minneapolis has taken office space in a new direction. Designed by Studio BV, a group of suites on a single floor was finished out to be "move-in ready," each featuring a host of new ideas to appeal to varied business tenants. Ranging in size between 3,500 and 10,000 square feet, the concept was initially a challenge, according to Studio BV's CEO Betsy Vohs. But the result, apparently, was worth the effort. About half the suites have been leased.

They are definitely not generic offices, said Vohs. They were conceived and furnished with function, efficiency and visual excitement in mind, with features like sit-stand desks, natural light and unique lighting fixtures. Additionally, the "cool" suites in the urban high-rise share a common area that includes a "wellness suite" and a shuffleboard court. The goal was to provide prospective tenants with colorful, custom design and the convenience of a fully furnished office space that still could be tailored to individual needs.

Vohs is quick to point out the advantages inherent in predesigned office space that is available for rapid move-ins. Whether this is a trend that is destined to continue is still a question, but like many other ideas in the world of Twin Cities offices and commercial real estate, it is certainly interesting.

The prospect of more efficient, healthier offices and business facilities for local employees is an exciting one, and one that continues to be driven by unique and innovative thinking.

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