May 26, 2020

This is Part 4 in a series where DPR experts look at ways to build resiliency into commercial spaces as we move through the COVID pandemic and beyond. Part 1 looked at improvements that can be made to existing spaces. Part 2 and Part 3 examined ways to spread out individuals within a workforce and technology for remote asset management, respectively. This final segment discusses planning for healthier future spaces.

At some point, the pandemic will subside, the economy will recover and true, long-term planning will begin. When it does, it is likely that the momentum that was building behind healthy buildings and systems like WELL Certification will become mainstream.

The advantages of healthy workplaces have been highlighted from business researchers to innovation consultants to the medical community. Now, as many firms that are bringing workers back put measures including temperature checks into place, employees will be scrutinizing how well their offices support their health.

“We believe in the benefits of WELL from a standpoint of increasing productivity, lowering absenteeism and more,” said Matt Murphy, DPR Construction’s core markets leader. “The primary reason we’ve built our new offices to WELL standards, though, is because of the tangible benefits to the health of our employees.”

DPR's Sacramento office with spaced-out workstations and daylighting.
High performance can be achieved even in instances where existing buildings were renovated, like DPR's WELL certified office in Sacramento. Photo courtesy of Chad Davies

Including the 1918 flu pandemic, the COVID-19 pandemic is the second worldwide event of this scale in 100 years. For anyone aiming to build higher performing buildings with a lifespan of 50-100 years, it’s worth considering that pandemics have more in common with earthquakes than hurricanes: they’re less frequent, but when they happen, it’s a widespread disruption.

“In places where earthquakes are common, we’ve taken a lot of measures to ensure the resiliency of the built environment,” Murphy said. “Shouldn’t we do the same with health and doing things to minimize disruption should another pandemic occur within our lifetimes?”

Planning for a truly healthy workspace, though, isn’t something to do after design has taken place. Buildings and workplaces with the best results and returns from green building strategies are the ones that started with integrated approaches from the start, setting high performance as goals and letting those goals shape the design and construction process. Achieving the same sort of results with WELL Certification takes a similar approach.

Living Walls filled with plants are pictured in DPR's Austin, Texas office.
WELL Certified spaces, like DPR's Austin, TX office, could be the way of the future. Photo courtesy of Peter Molick

“Our customers were already facing high bottom line expenses for health insurance and wellness programs,” Murphy said. “While there are cultural factors that affect employee behaviors, we’re finding a whole-building approach to wellness and health can influence culture. Putting measures in for physical distancing will be important, but so will building systems and materials that hinder spread of disease. Designs that help with circulation and provide employees with comfortable spaces to have physical distance while collaborating and feeling productive make a difference, too.”

Ultimately, putting all these strategies together should lower any given business’ exposure to pandemics or other disruptions.

“Businesses need to know their ability to operate can move forward. Employees want the peace of mind that their work and lives won’t be disrupted. Every business is connected to supply chains and customers and the larger economy,” Murphy said. “Any office that moves to make its own operations resilient makes our entire economy more resilient.”