What Our Socially Distanced Workspaces Might Look Like
In 1931, in the midst of the polio epidemic, the Swiss architect Le Corbusier finished his famous Villa Savoye, on the outskirts of Paris. When you walk into the building, the first thing you see is a stand-alone ceramic sink. Todd Heiser has been thinking about that sink a lot lately.
Heiser is a co–managing director of the Chicago office of Gensler, a global architecture firm that has created a data-driven tool called ReRun to help businesses reimagine their offices to accommodate new social distancing guidelines based on their individual space, staff size, and advice from the CDC and the WHO.
“Depending on what your space can absorb, you may only want to bring back 25 percent of people to the office,” Heiser says. But capacity isn’t the only concern. Some clients are worried about open floor plans, while others are just as fearful of enclosed spaces: Doorknobs have become the new enemy.
“We’ve been hearing that many of our users don’t want as many doors on rooms,” Heiser says. “So we’re actually creating something that’s a mix between an office and a workstation. We’re calling it an ‘officle.’ Or we’ll pull the doors off a conference room and use that as an additional workspace.”
Heiser envisions a future that will embrace facial recognition technology to grant touch-free access to workspaces, and anticipates a refreshed demand for automatic doors, intuitive elevator systems, and even infrared temperature sensing. He knows that remote work will be a big part of our business culture moving forward, but he mostly feels optimistic about the future of the office and how employees exist within it.
“This pandemic has created a new sense of essentialism,” he says. “It’s made us value the power of human connection, and also to ask, What do we really need? Why do we need to go to an office? We’re probably going to realize we don’t need some of the things we thought we did.”