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Will Six Feet Cut It in Future Workspaces?

Considering the impact of perceived physical distancing and how we might plan ahead for our post-pandemic workspaces.



April 29, 2020

It used to be that office densification was driven by a combination of real estate demands and evolving demographic work styles. Now it’s clear that we need to rethink which behaviours are acceptable and which belong outside of society’s post-pandemic comfort zone. While shifts towards bench seating, co-working, flex seating, and hoteling have pervaded workplace design trends of late, a rethink is in order surrounding the future of open, activity-based workplaces.

As we work toward reopening our offices around the world, companies should prepare both short- and long-term action plans that will ensure staff feel comfortable and safe in their new working environments. Short-term solutions may include permitting only 50 per cent of staff to occupy the office at a time, achieved via the staggered planning of benches and workstations, with additional staff working remotely. This can be done by auditing the current remote-working results to see which practices within a firm really need to be in the office moving forward. It will drive companies to reconsider when and how employees interact, resulting in a more economic use of space and robust application of technology to facilitate meetings at a distance; and the redesign of common gathering areas, including lunchrooms and cafes, to be more adaptable for both group and individual use.

Long-term solutions may include employees utilizing a mobile app that could monitor and aggregate their work- and health-related data in one easy-to-use interface. Such an application could provide up-to-date confirmation of an employee’s health data, in addition to a custom interface to manage all their daily work experiences, including booking conference rooms and workstations, accessing secure locations within the office, and facilitating elevator requests. This could all be managed and tracked via a Revit digital twin model of the space, as well as integrated IoT programming via tools such as Microsoft’s Azure platform.

While helpful, these short- and long-term solutions don’t in themselves define the size of our new personal space bubbles. Perhaps our return to work will see increased eye contact avoidance and headphone use — but here’s hoping there will be design solutions to promote safe and reasonable interaction amongst colleagues and peers.

Barry Nathan has over 30 years of experience in both architectural and interior design, which has given him an enviable understanding of two areas of practice. His work is comprised of both large scale commercial clients and complex public spaces, including higher education and high-rise residential projects. Alternative design approaches have allowed Barry to provide very unique and creative solutions for progressive thinking clients. His adeptness at problem solving via innovative solutions has helped many clients succeed in their goals. He is always challenging the status quo with an alternative view. Some of Barry’s past awards include the Design Exchange and ARIDO Awards for Pearson Airport, Denton’s Toronto and the Bell Wireless Centre in Mississauga. He is in the process of finalizing his Architectural License with the OAA and has memberships with the TSA and ASID.

Headshot of Barry Nathan

Written by Barry Nathan

Associate Director | Practice Lead, Interior Design
Toronto, ON
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