As our country takes the first steps toward re-opening, we find ourselves wondering what the world will look like as we slowly begin to venture back out. What will my office look like? My neighborhood? The building I work in? We were lucky enough to sit down with some experts in the design and development industries to learn what we can expect in the near future when it comes to post-COVID change. It turns out, what we can expect to see is more of a cultural shift than a physical one.

Cleanliness is Key

While we are certainly seeing a decrease in the density of offices, what most companies are focusing on is communicating a message of health and cleanliness to their clients and staff. “What it comes down to,” explained Jeannine Campbell, Principal and Director of Interior Design for Perkins and Will, “is education.” As employees return to work, they are being taught how to properly social distance, wear a mask, and clean their desks. 

When looking for guidance on how to educate clients in maintaining a post-COVID workplace, many designers are turning to WELL and Fitwel standards. “When you think about how you can clean more effectively, the WELL and Fitwel programs have already addressed that,” explained Jennifer McGrory, Architect and Project Manager for Perkins and Will’s Corporate Interiors team. “WELL’s fresh air design was already considering things like particulates and using UV lighting to minimize pathogens. Not only does this help employee health and wellness, these improvements should be considered part of talent retention. Now, employees are really going to start asking how clean their workplace is, and choose companies who are addressing this directly and effectively.”

Putting People First

“The most important thing for these companies is their talent,” added Campbell. “We’ve created great collaboration spaces for talent and now we need to think about how to protect that talent.” Thomas N. O’Brien, Managing Director of The HYM Investment Group, LLC, detailed the emphasis his company has now put on employee well being. “Everyone wants to get back to work, but health and safety are paramount. We’re all about the protocols that are meant to create confidence in people that the workplace can be safe. We’re making sure everyone operates in accordance with those protocols.”

Changing Real Estate Development Trends

For the past decade, developers have touted their properties’ proximity to public transportation. Now the focus has shifted back to available parking, high-tech HVAC systems, elevators with contactless systems, and technology that allows employees to comfortably work from home. COVID’s impact on the real estate industry will be substantial, as many existing buildings will be required to alter their systems as well as their infrastructure and new construction buildings will be forced to reevaluate their planned designs. “We’ve seen people thinking about office space as being decentralized, but still wanting people to be able to come together,” noted Rob Wing, Neoscape Creative Director. “Developers will have to start thinking about how people are utilizing office space.

Marketing Post-COVID

With this heightened emphasis on health and safety, companies are making substantive changes, and it’s vital that they communicate them. At Neoscape, we’ve seen an overall desire by our clients to shift their brand messaging to one of wellness. For us, this means creating websites that detail the specific safety protocols of our clients’ buildings, developing applications that can take a potential tenant on a fully animated, in-depth tour of a building’s systems, creating virtual property tours to allay fears of an on-site visit, and shifting our approach to renderings, which are being adjusted to show fewer desks, organizing people so they aren’t facing each other, and even adding in desk screens.

One of the big questions we’re all asking is this: Will this concern for health and safety put a damper on people’s desire to work in cities? Not likely, said O’Brien, “The basic human instinct is to be in a place where we can interact with other human beings. All of those interactions that happen, happen in cities. When we rebuild people’s confidence around being in a place, that’s where people will want to be.

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