Viewpoint: Six Degrees of Separation: A Roadmap for Safe Return to Work
The COVID-19 pandemic means we must adapt to different workspaces and lifestyles, beyond simply moving desks around and providing hand sanitizer. We must also reevaluate existing spaces and recalibrate standards. The six new degrees of separation include:
- Zoning: How to separate public and private functions, including the need to define areas for visitors while maintaining health and safety protocols.
- Access: How to control visitor and delivery ingress-egress points to limit exposure.
- Circulation: How to identify travel paths to reduce intersection, including encouraging one-way circulation to navigate spaces.
- Proximity and Privacy: How to redefine geometry and density to allow for proper distancing. That includes varying the occupancy by using a platoon approach to remobilize our workforce.
- Hygiene: How to use clean-in and clean-out protocols and touch-free technology, including convenient sanitizing stations where most needed.
- Materiality: How to use antimicrobial copper surfaces and hardware and bleach-friendly textiles and surfaces to prevent contamination.
First, do a strategic space assessment. Measure your existing spacing, density and capacity. Review the flow of circulation paths between communal spaces. Are there open workspaces? Cubicles? What are the entry and exit challenges? Make your employees part of the process by surveying them.
Office suites could adopt a concept from home: the mud room. This allows employees to hang up their coats, put umbrellas and commuting shoes in place and wash their hands before entering. Deliveries may go back to the old mail room concept, with packages placed in a quarantine area, where all materials are discarded, mail is sanitized and left there for pickup.
Other design reconfigurations include conference rooms and collaborative spaces. For the former, we recommend adopting a “campfire” concept, where desks and chairs are placed in a spoke formation for more distance. Individual workspaces have continued to shrink in lieu of collaborative workspaces, but we need to alter floor plans to maintain the positive aspects of collaboration while fostering security and well-being.
Next, develop procedures to create a safe return-to-work plan. Your checklist may include furniture reconfiguration and retrofit, improved wayfinding, hygiene protocols for cleaning to encourage behavioral changes, upgrading HVAC systems to provide sanitized air conditioning and establishing a budget and a timeline.
Touch-free technologies will be game changers for sterilization and placement. The novel coronavirus cannot survive under prolonged UV light, so UV-lighting fixtures should be installed in office entry portals and bathrooms. Copper, which has an anti-microbial capability, is a good choice for doorknobs, handles, railings and touch plates. While superbugs like MRSA and coronaviruses can live up to four or five days on most hard surfaces, they start to die within minutes and are undetectable within hours on copper and copper alloys like brass.
We’re in this for the long haul to protect the health of our employees and our businesses. Our job is to rethink the workplace, renew it with affordable strategies and reopen it in a way that promotes health and productivity.
Denver-based Lauren Amber Prestenbach, NCIDQ, a principal at Powers Brown Architecture, is a LEED and Evidence-Based Design Accreditation and Certification accredited professional. She serves as vice president and advocacy director for the International Interior Design Association’s Rocky Mountain Chapter.