All of the things that were taken for granted in the workplace - from talking to a co-worker, to opening a door or having a neighbour at your desk - are set to see large changes in the post-pandemic landscape of work. Smart design that answers these issues will define how we move forwards post-corona.
Although the pandemic hasn’t completely gone, still functioning as a very important part of daily discussion, people are coming to terms with returning to normal life. This means work, one of the environments where the proximity of shared spaces will be a constant test for employers to mitigate. To do this, many design agencies and independent designers from around the world have been coming up with tools and features to help with re-integration.
A good place to start is the door. One of the most concentrated points of bacterial transfer in an office place is the door handle. Not everywhere is fitted with automatic doors, so many designers have set about remedying this potential hotspot for the virus.
One suggestion is the Step ‘n’ Pull, an already available device that allows users to open (not unlock) a door using their foot. Unfortunately, this limits users to only pull doors. If there’s a handle, people can use the StatGear ‘Hygiene Hand’, a metal pulling device that you can attach to your keys. These could easily be mass-produced and handed out to employees, branded like a keyring and used around the workplace. It’s simple but effective.
In the door stakes though, there’s one clear winner for innovation. Recipient of the 2019 James Dyson Award, the Self Sanitizing Door Handle designed by Sum Ming Wong and Kin Pong Li is an incredible piece of design coming from Hong Kong that was initially being developed in response to the 2003 SARS outbreak, although only coming to fruition shortly before the coronavirus outbreak.
Already rolled out in shopping malls there, the handles destroy 99.8% of bacteria through its combination of photocatalytic and blacklight technology, able to interact with where the handle has been touched before sending a UV light to that spot to tackle the germs. Better yet, the UV lamp is kinetically charged, meaning all the power comes from using the door.
Once you’ve made it through the door, you’ll then be talking to your peers. With masks being more a band-aid than a long-term solution, architects, artist and designers have taken it upon themselves to imagine how a mask-free future will look - should some type of preventative measures still be required.
One of the more stand-out pieces is LA-based Production Club’s ‘Micrashell’. Although this is a particularly sci-fi example, mainly designed for public spaces like bars and clubs, it does highlight the need for individual responsibility in the future of people interacting again. Besides that, it’s a conversation starter. However, for the office, something more practical seems a more likely option.
Translucent barriers appear to be the likely way to go, particularly considering their roll-out in shops and supermarkets already. Offering a protective wall between interactions, the interpersonal aspect isn’t completely diminished in the same way as wearing a mask does. If things improve substantially, then it’s imaginable that workplaces will focus on smaller group gatherings, with specific ‘pods’ or sections that will house a maximum number of people - becoming more carefully choreographed with meetings, lunches and breaks.
Coupled with improved air-conditioning and a rethinking of watercooler culture, the new workplace will be deemed as a success not just by how safe it is, but by how natural and ‘normal’ it feels. With people at its heart, people must remain the central concern of a happy and functional society.
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