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Street to Seat: Retooling Office Buildings for Post-COVID-19 Return

8 May 2020

As Dyer Brown has begun planning for our own return to work, our architects and interior designers and our specialized Asset Design & Support team have investigated solutions for the spaces and elements encountered prior to reaching our desks. The ideas apply broadly.

Let’s start from the street: We see landlords of office buildings potentially implementing one way in, one way out as a means to encouraging one-way traffic for social distancing. Every building is different in size and configuration, so one-size-fits-all solutions won’t apply to this pandemic transition.

Landlords should think about the journey each tenant has to endure before they reach their desk. Those with a well-thought-through approach will not only provide comfort to tenants entering the building, they will also create an experience that makes them want to return again.

What else is needed in commercial building lobbies? Depending on the market and tenant mix, a portable sanitation station may be added, allowing tenants a hygiene opportunity prior to heading to the elevators. We’re already familiar with touchless hand sanitizers: These and sanitizing wipes dispensers should be added and strategically placed to disinfect hands and/or surfaces that tenants may need to touch.

Let’s not forget about the lobby furniture that may need to be cleaned more often. Much of it may need to be stored or reworked for the time being, perhaps replaced with plants, informational signage, or art.

After that, what do we do at the elevators? Many questions remain, such as whether passenger capacity will be reduced, or if elevator cabs will be retrofitted with movable dividers that split cab space in half to help with distancing and act as additional protection.

Policies that reinforce good practices should also reflect the property’s brand and ownership culture. Will some building owners and managers require face masks to be worn when tenants/guests enter their building? And what innovative ways can their design teams integrate pandemic-related signage as well as floor markings near lobby reception consoles and in elevator lobbies so that yes, we know and are reminded to keep our distances, but we’re also happy to be reminded?

In some settings, landlords may add lobby attendants or extra security guards to monitor screenings and behaviors by tenants and visitors. Some will also add screens at their security desks as an added layer of protection, just as we’ve seen at supermarket checkout aisles. Think about how interactions can be touchless.

With these ideas considered, let’s make our way up to a multiple-tenant floor to consider enhancements similar to those undertaken in the lobby. Hand sanitizers stations, including added trash receptacles in the elevator lobby? Check. On-brand, design-savvy floor markings for social distancing? Check. One-way traffic in the corridors? In some cases, it’s possible and may be worth considering.

Oh, and let’s not forget the restrooms: Again, thoughtful and clear signage and communication is key here. At least one sign should indicate the number of people allowed in restrooms at one time, with instructions for people to wait outside, at a distance, should the facilities be at capacity. Are landlords updating the restroom entry doors with hands free hardware or automatic openers? Are leading properties putting in new partitions that are perhaps longer and have a vacancy indicator? Everywhere, we expect office buildings to possibly upgrade any fixtures that are not hands-free, and to implement more frequent cleanings.

Buildings that communicate well will fare the best. If there’s clear communication, well-designed signage, and clarity on protocols, we’ll see human behavior follow.

These ideas might all seem like a lot of work, but it’s just a start. In fact, Dyer Brown is working on bespoke solutions as well as prototypes that will benefit many clients, such as our prototype PPE unit with an integrated trash receptacle.

One thing is certain: The transition process and building needs will look different for each landlord and each property and each floor of their buildings. Dyer Brown is implementing a “street-to-seat” program for our own headquarters, and we’re working with building owners and managers on a range of scenarios for their properties. Asking the questions posed here and considering the options available is essential. We’ve been listening to the answers, surveying our clients, and working through possible design changes -- either permanent or temporary -- from street to seat.

Post authored by

Heather Stanley NCIDQ
Senior Associate | Manager of Asset Design + Support
Dyer Brown Architects

Kara J. Hanson IIDA
Senior Project Manager
Dyer Brown Architects

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