Joseph Mayer, Principal, J. Mayer Architects; Sandy Sawicki, Vice President, Interior Design, JMT Architecture and Scott Vieth, Principal, Design Collective recently gathered to discuss how their firms are reacting and presenting solutions to changes in the workplace, emerging trends including employee input requesting healthier indoor environments; the overall reimagining of the traditional office space and the importance of creative outdoor spaces and daylighting features.

Workplace safety remains top-of-mind

Sandy Sawicki (SS): “Our firm has worked as an integral resource to our clients over the past 18 months to help them develop plans to reopen their offices in a safe manner. Following best practices from the WELL Building Standard, we are addressing cleaning and sanitation protocols, adding hands-free technologies in high touch areas such as building entrances and restrooms, reconfiguring work areas and staggering shifts to allow for increased distancing among workers, and ensuring that workers have access to daylighting and nature.”

Joseph Mayer (JM): “Many of our clients are finding they now need less office space due to the increase in remote workers, so we are developing solutions to this downsizing. This is leading to sub-lease situations in some cases and we are also addressing that issue. In one instance, we are reconfiguring a single-user building into one that can support two different users. There are some inherent issues involved when it comes to separating the two, mainly impacting HVAC, electrical, and common-area access and egress. A large portion of our efforts are invested into compartmentalizing work spaces, creating more shared cubicles and rethinking office flow and layouts.”

Scott Vieth (SV): “Our firm has expertise in both the multifamily and commercial office sectors. We have been enhancing traditional work spaces to accommodate the new normal by drawing on our multi-family experience. People have better access to daylight working at home and we are finding ways to create a more equitable distribution of daylight in the office place. We are adding windows in fire stairs to encourage its use among employees, providing access to and creating outdoor workplaces on the roof areas, adding facilities for bike commuters and enhancing amenity packages. This includes remaking the fitness center, establishing informal conference centers for collaboration sessions and integrating new areas to congregate for meals.”

Reimagining the office

SS: “The new hybrid work model is challenging us to reimagine the office. In many cases, offices are not shrinking but are reallocating space. We see private offices and individual workspaces getting smaller to allow for increased collaboration areas and alternative workspaces such as team rooms, project rooms, and work cafés that allow workers a variety of workspace choices, depending on the task at hand. We see new technologies being integrated into meeting spaces to enhance the interaction between in-person and remote participants. Whenever possible, companies are adding outdoor amenities such as patios and roof decks to further promote employee wellness.”

SV: “The new workplace is requiring phone booth rooms (small, soundproofed areas for private work), virtual meeting spaces and enhanced conference rooms with technology. In many cases, landlords are embracing providing these areas and offering them as amenities for the entire tenant roster to use. These amenities are becoming a unique selling proposition in the leasing program and there is a race to add them over the competition. Other new features are soft work spaces (enhanced by comfortable chairs and couches), golf simulators, yoga studios, coffee bars and touchdown spaces enabling visitors or employees to plug in their laptop.”

JM: “We recently helped several clients establish focus rooms which, with reinforced soundproofing and a compact design, is ideal for one or two employees to conducts meetings, make a private phone call and perform heads-down work activities with physical and acoustic separation.  We are seeing increased emphasis on wellness rooms for employees to take a break from the hectic and stressful workday and enjoy some quiet time without venturing too far from the outside — or actually leaving — the office. Some of these rooms are equipped with massage chairs, mats for yoga or laying down and generally getting sensory relief from the sights and sounds of the office. This is especially popular among expectant mothers and elderly workers.

SS: “With firms competing for top talent, companies are increasingly investing in office design and providing upscale amenities to attract and retain workers. Hard wall construction is being replaced by portable, reconfigurable furnishings and screens that divide space and provide maximum flexibility, allowing companies to easily adapt their spaces to shifting workstyles and needs.”

SV: “Enhancing mental health is a top priority, so employers are encouraging its workforce to take a phone call or otherwise engage outdoors. We are programming these spaces and incorporating them into office design. In addition, people have become accustomed to spending time with their pet, so we have integrated pet therapy rooms in projects complete with linoleum flooring.”

JM: “Our dog now comes to work with me every day and it is extremely good for both of us. Employees are increasingly empowered and asking for flexible work schedules, office layout changes that make them more comfortable and amenities that improve their mental and physical wellbeing. A happier employee translates to a more productive one so employers and landlords are willing to make these changes.