May 13, 2020

Editor’s Note: This story was updated on Sep. 2, 2020.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, there has been significant speculation about what the pandemic will mean for workplaces in the future. As certain as it is that changes in workspaces will be the new reality, the fact is that, generally, people like going to the office (and many people miss doing so!) The fast internet connections of office spaces provide a form of digital equity for workers, many of whom have certainly felt the limitations of their internet bandwidth at home. Many businesses that are doing well with keeping operations moving remotely are struggling to replicate the organic interactions of face-to-face contact in offices that help support everything from professional development to camaraderie. While amazing work is happening via video conferencing, there is no replacement for that one-on-one interaction in real time with coworkers.

The return to the office will happen, and when it does, it will look different for every organization. What will be important, though, is making sure offices are set up in ways to minimize further disruptions and optimize the health of their occupants. Through the design and construction approaches, businesses can plan for resiliency in the face of not only this pandemic, but other potentialities that could disrupt business for weeks or months at a time.

“The COVID pandemic has shown businesses where they have some risk exposure and that design and construction solutions can help alleviate those risks,” said Matt Murphy, who acts as DPR Construction’s core markets leader. “It’s clear that offices are not just places people gather, but key business assets, and there are strategies that can be put into place to help ensure those critical assets can always stay online.”

A DPR worker is the only person shown in a DPR project trailer at her desk, which has been equipped with a clear barrier.
Project site offices that were active during the COVID-19 pandemic provide examples of how to create physical distance and add safety measures like barriers. Photo courtesy of DPR Construction

In this series, DPR experts look at ways to build resiliency into commercial spaces as we move through the COVID pandemic and beyond. This segment looks at improvements that can be made to existing spaces. Upcoming installments will examine ways to spread out individuals within a workforce, technology for remote asset management and planning for healthier future spaces.

Making Existing Spaces Work Today

While long-term solutions are needed, carefully re-opening existing spaces is the top priority. At various stages, businesses that want to reopen will considering everything from bringing groups of workers back in rotations, enhanced cleaning efforts to new ways to use kitchen and amenity spaces as well as office-wide physical distancing measures.

“Workspace utilization at DPR has never really been your standard 'space-centric focused' space planning. We've always been focused on human-centric metrics. Collaboration thrives in open office environments,” says Scott Sass, who acts as DPR’s national special services group (SSG) leader. “This pandemic has allowed us to reimagine the workplace and find new ways to satisfy the needs of our people. We're discussing new ways to enhance already human-focused design strategies that will ensure the highest levels of collaboration and safety in workplaces.”

A safety screen and floor tape to encourage physical distancing have were added to this customer's reception area.
A safety screen and floor tape to encourage physical distancing were added to this customer's reception area. Photo courtesy of DPR Construction

Temporary safety measures are likely at first, but customers looking for more permanent solutions will want to make adjustments to existing spaces without disrupting day-to-day operations. DPR’s SSG group and its corps of self-perform workers have some ideas to consider.

“At the beginning of this, there were a lot of articles stating, '‘this is the end of the open-concept offices,’” Sass said. “That’s probably hyperbole. However, there will be a need to evaluate the existing office and determine if changes are necessary. Immediate changes like auto-operators on doors, new antimicrobial hardware and touchless operation kitchen equipment are considerations. There also may be a need to adjust workspace configurations, or add screens for the interim measures.”

The reception desk at DPR Construction's Dallas office with a newly-installed barrier.
The reception desk at DPR Construction's Dallas office with a newly-installed barrier. Photo courtesy of DPR Construction

Sass added: “One thing all offices should consider is re-commissioning HVAC systems. It’s like doing a tune-up on your car. It will give you the peace of mind that systems are doing what they’re supposed to, and changing the filters regularly is important.”

In other words, it’s the kind of work an SSG group is well positioned to support.

“Doors, hardware, drywall, MEP… this is what we were doing before the pandemic and finding ways to do it in active workspaces,” Sass said. “Delivering that with quality is more about planning. We want to work with individual customers to understand their needs and find ways to install what they need in ways that don’t disrupt their operations at a time when another disruption could be a critical threat to business.”

Sass believes that can mean after-hours work with thorough cleaning afterward, deliberate planning on crew sizes and phasing of work.

“The advantage of having a nimble crew ready to go is that it perfectly aligns with the idea that there isn’t one grand solution out there for everyone,” Sass said. “Every customer is going to have different needs and, through collaboration, we can get them online faster and in ways they can count on moving forward.”


Read other parts of this series: Part 2, Part 3, Part 4