Will tomorrow’s workspaces look more
like the workspaces of the past?

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Melissa Smithson

We’re working hard right now on commercial interior projects and construction in Nashville, and like everyone else, seeking the best answers as to what the workplace of tomorrow will look like after COVID-19. DWC Construction’s history as the go-to general contractor for interiors in Nashville gives us a little bit of a “heads up” for what the offices of tomorrow will look like. Industry experts and health authorities are saying that post-pandemic office spaces will look more like the offices of the past than we thought before the pandemic. Here are some of the trends, new and old, that will help to keep people safe at work in the post-COVID era. In addition to traditions of prior eras like bigger office spaces and separate, private work areas, there are some new trends and materials that are coming to our post-pandemic work and commercial environments.

Return of the cubicle

In recent years, we’ve seen a lot of open office space concepts and have found creative and harmonious alternatives to old-fashioned cubicles. We don’t think that new, post-pandemic office spaces will look exactly like the cubicles from cartoons like “Dilbert.” But there is a strong need for healthy, safe work areas and we envision fewer open co-working areas, unless they allow space for social distancing and safe work.

Cubicles are on the way back because they allow safe work, but the structures themselves do not have to be opaque, and definitely don’t need to be made from metal, laminate, and gray or beige carpet-like coverings.

Studies show that about 16% of flu transmission in previous years came in office environments, so rethinking the cubicle is essential in the post-COVID environment. Early designs are using a lot of plexiglass, but at DWC, we’re committed to creating a work-friendly and beautiful environment that’s also as safe as possible. Cubicles will also be larger, to allow for social distancing. According to Dr. Lisa Winston, an epidemiologist at the UC San Francisco General Hospital, simply “having fewer people in a space” will help to create a safer workplace. We’re looking to design and build commercial interiors in Nashville that give businesses all of the space and safety they and their employees need.

Videoconferencing and alternating work days

It may seem like an obvious solution to create social distancing, but many employers who are re-opening their workplaces are dividing their workforce in half and scheduling them to come in to the office on alternating days. This strategy fits with CDC guidelines, which encourage employers to give as much space as possible to employees. On stay-at-home days, employees can communicate using digital conferencing.

In light of this trend, we’re certain that offices will want to build dedicated videoconferencing spaces. Of course, everyone could just use their mobile phones to join Zoom, but dedicated videoconference spaces are cropping up everywhere and DWC Construction is ready to create spaces that respond to this trend.

Antimicrobial materials

Some companies have developed cough and sneeze protection screens, and you’ve doubtless seen them in grocery stores. They’ve always been common in banks. Now, these can be enhanced with anti-microbial materials. Some companies have made these types of materials for years, like Microban, but there are a host of new startups that are also making them. We’re committed to keeping up with these trends as well. Desk pads, mats, organizers, and other surface materials, for restrooms, worktables, and more, are all available.

Touchless technology

Knowing what we know about how infections can spread, we think everyone would be glad to have a touch-free alternative for just about any surface they usually touch, especially door handles and faucets. Right now, you can locate portable door pulls and foot-operated door openers for personal use. Commercial versions are rapidly growing, and rather than luxuries, we see these amenities as “must haves” for commercial offices. The highest-end offices and medical clinics have had automatic sliding doors for years, but they could become commonplace everywhere, depending on cost and alternatives.

Combining old and new interior designs

Some of the trends that we foresee as a general contractor in Nashville do look back to offices of the past, whether they’re cubicles or a move back to individual offices instead of shared desks and open workspaces. Others are technologies that are becoming much more prominent, like antimicrobial materials for surfaces, and touchless technology for doors, restrooms, and many other types of controls. Imagine a touch-free copying machine — and how about a touch-free keyboard? The technology is still being developed and is mostly oriented toward people with physical challenges, but we predict more office equipment being built with hygiene and safety in mind in addition to the look and feel of post-pandemic office design, furnishings, and materials.