Building design in Covid era


In South Africa so many people depend on livelihoods that require on-site work, and life experienced through Covid19 has us needing to secure a new foothold in workspaces. Whilst the multitude of people not in Essential Services moved overnight to work from home, today finds this workforce trickling back to offices and sites under lower lockdown levels – but with fresh, health consciousness levels.

In response, companies will need to look to workspace redesign, with possible new build and renovation implications.

Due to this, future workplaces featured in blueprint-like sketches, are now here. At Sephaku Cement we see the following built environment trends that will take us beyond transparent sneeze guards and social distancing markers, to a holistic walk-through impact on our build projects.

Greenbelts get you through the door

 Going green has a literal meaning in these times and context, as fresh air and open spaces with natural ventilation are everything to support optimal public health.

Carbon absorbing plants are no longer a nice-to-have luxury in the office as they serve much more than an aesthetic function. Natural zones and clean and clear ventilation in large buildings are fundamental considerations for any and every building. Living walls will add a new dimension to vertical spaces in our workspaces.

Spaced out work station spaces

Consultancy firm McKinsey picks up on this point saying, “We all have ideas about what a typical office looks and feels like: a mixture of private offices and cubicles, with meeting rooms, pantries, and shared amenities. Few offices have been intentionally designed to support specific organizational priorities. Although offices have changed in some ways during the past decade, they may need to be entirely rethought and transformed for a post–COVID-19 world.”

Work stations will need to be ultimate safe zones for staff. Close working quarters need to become spaced out to allow employees room to breathe, safely, which could mean that partitions are built and smaller teams are grouped in larger areas.

Technology for touchless moves

Touchless technology was often considered a non-essential operations budget item until Covid19 changed the worldview on surface sanitisation. From elevators to escalators, to boardrooms, entrances and common areas touch-free access and operations is a new world investment priority.

At the same time, office designs will become more aligned with the priorities and process flow of an organisation which could mean more health-safe collaboration spaces than work cubicles as staff work remotely, but check in for on-site team work sessions. McKinsey makes the following observation on this trend:

“The coming transformation will use a portfolio of space solutions: owned space, standard leases, flexible leases, flex space, co-working space, and remote work. Before the crisis, flexible space solutions held about 3 percent of the US office market. Their share had been growing at 25 percent annually for the past five years, so flexibility was already in the works. McKinsey research indicates that office-space decision makers expect the percentage of time worked in main and satellite offices to decline by 12 and 9 percent, respectively, while flex office space will hold approximately constant and work from home will increase to 27 percent of work time, from 20 percent.2

Implications on project processes

 An important impact not to be overlooked is the role that the global pandemic will play in built environment projects, and the tangible innovation that has been unlocked and will still be unlocked. In some markets there has been a hike in Research & Development (R&D) spend as the need for digitisation and automation in public spaces was immediate. This made for new smart business builds, a trend which is backed by a further McKinsey report on the subject that forecasts a potential long term increase in off-site construction, as it states:

 “Building in controlled environments makes even more sense in a world that requires close management of the movement and interaction of workforces. Such rationale further strengthens the case for off-site construction, beyond the existing quality and speed benefits. In fact, we expect to see contractors gradually push fabrication off-site and manufacturers expand their range of prefabricated subassemblies.[1]

This point brings the impact of the pandemic home, to our industry, as construction processes will evolve to ensure a safe work environment for builders, specialists and project managers as they recreate new workspaces into kusasa. What is most certain is that we need to keep a close watch on this space to keep leading smart ways of working and supporting healthy people.

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