Will Covid-19 change the design of your workspace?

There has been a trend towards 'open-environment' office space with no barriers. Will it need to change?
Posted at 6:15 PM, May 04, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-04 18:34:29-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW-TV) — Over the past few years, there has been a trend toward 'open-air' office space that puts employees closer together without barriers between them. Those designs are thought, by some, to improve the interaction and communication of employees.

M&T Bank touted the benefits of the open-environment work space in February 2020 when it shared renderings of its new Tech Hub under construction in the Seneca One Tower. The bank felt the modern design with its communal spaces would inspire conversation, innovation, and collaboration.

Will Covid-19 change that?

M&T Bank sent us the following statement:

"Regarding the Tech Hub, we temporarily paused construction back in late March. We have a task force working to determine the best approach to ensure the safety of our employees, suppliers and customers, and construction will resume as soon as it is deemed safe for workers to return to the job site."

7 Eyewitness News asked Jake Schneider, CEO of the Schneider Family of Services in Buffalo, what impact he thought the pandemic would have on office design going forward?

"Nobody really knows, yet, how the Covid pandemic will play out," explained Schneider. He said no drastic long-term design changes are being undertaken by architects because they "could be obsolete" if the crisis continues.

However, companies are asking what they should do to keep employees and customers safe.

There is a big focus on cleaning, explained Schneider. "Some companies are requiring place mats and table cloths on work surfaces." Building designers are looking at things that are easier to clean, such as bathroom fixtures, and ways to minimize 'tough points,' such as doors without knobs," added Schneider.

The prominent Buffalo businessman said he has questions about how effective some of the measures being considered will actually be because there are still too many unanswered questions. "Will people be required to wear masks? Will there be reduced occupancy in the office going forward?," commented Schneider. In particular, he doesn't know how successful it will be to keep people properly spaced apart in lobbies.

Construction continues on Schneider projects and that has been affected by new job site rules. Workers must have their temperature checked when starting a shift, otherwise, they are sent home to avoid infecting co-workers.

Cubicles are one office item that could see a resurgence. Schneider said the now under-construction Evans Bank headquarters in Williamsville (scheduled to open in September) includes cubicle spaces for the employees - which makes it safer from a health perspective. "The cubicle is still a very affordable way of providing a semi-private work space," explained Schneider.

For businesses with open-air office layouts; "You may see more six and seven-foot workstations defined with partitions to help with that social separation."

While it is unknown which office changes will be long-lasting, Schneider thinks the way people do their job will be drastically changed by those who effectively worked from home. "I think that is a paradigm shift that we are going to see. There are a lot more people and companies that are more comfortable having their employees work at home."

The downside, said Schneider, is it could make it harder for landlords to find tenants to rent office space in downtown Buffalo - an area where there is a wealth of office space.