The Future of Office Space in a Post COVID-19 World

By BRIAN J. NOLAN

Brian Nolan

COVID-19 has led to an enhanced health consciousness across the country, affecting virtually every aspect of our lives. In response, federal, state and local governments implemented laws, rules and regulations regarding health and safety. These changes will have an impact on how we work and on the future design of the spaces where we work for the months and years to come.

Which rules and regulations will affect the office?

The CDC rule that will have the most immediate impact on office use and design is the need to establish policies and practices for social distancing, including closing or limiting access to common areas where employees are likely to congregate and interact in the office. For local level guidance, a best practice is to contact your local attorney to walk through all local requirements, which can vary greatly depending on location.

To comply with the new guidelines, building owners and the companies/tenants within their buildings must work together on solutions that keep offices safe and a viable option. A focus should be to find ways to foster collaboration while accommodating the health and safety of office members as employees slowly return and office spaces gradually increase to full capacity.

Outdoor Meeting Areas

Where possible, one option for more open meeting spaces is an expansion of accessible, quality green spaces and outdoor areas where people can gather while socially distanced. The ability to foster teamwork is an important factor to consider when designing office space. Collaborations between co-workers still need to take place while taking into consideration new health guidelines. Outdoor areas allow for socially distanced meetings and could be used by office members as a place to meet, discuss, and collaborate.

It is in the best interest of building owners to invest in ways to bring people together and enhance the space while conforming to social distancing guidelines. Businesses will likely focus on maintaining some semblance of their normal office culture through design changes, while building owners will look to enhance their properties to bring more value. This value can be driven by investors who have already begun showing an increased interest in sustainable investments.

Individual Working Spaces

The glory days of shared office spaces and co-working space may be behind us, at least for the time being.

Video conferences have proven to be low-cost, efficient alternatives to in-person meetings. The need for individual spaces that allow for people to participate in video conferences without disrupting others will have an increasing importance in a post-COVID office. Individual office spaces will also reduce close interactions and the use of communal surfaces. The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has already shifted its focus to reducing the spread of COVID in the office through updating Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) strategies to address factors that could affect COVID spread within the office – such as indoor environmental quality and cleaning – and by creating new pilot credits focusing on social distancing, nontoxic surface cleaning and air quality. The implementation of strategies for clean air and clean surfaces will be supplemented by individual spaces, allowing office members to maintain their own work area and keep a safe distance from others in the office.

New Office Construction

COVID-19 has many in the construction industry questioning the market for newly constructed office buildings and asking how construction will look in the future.

COVID will likely change new office construction designs. Technological advancements such as touch-free elevators and touch-free thermal scanning at lobby security desks may be implemented in new builds. Construction job sites may see increased usage of digital collaboration tools, 4D and 5D simulations and online channels for everything from monitoring employees to ordering materials and maintaining cash flow. 

Outside of technological advancements, larger corridors and washrooms are a possibility due to social distancing requirements. Rooftop gardens, or other green outdoor balcony areas, are also sustainable options for new designs. Look no further than the extensive outdoor garden area and green designs planned for the Forsyth Pointe office building currently under construction in Clayton. These gardens and balconies could be used in the same ways as the outdoor spaces described above.  

While the extent of the long-term impact remains to be seen, office spaces as we know them will face both immediate and enduring changes.

Brian J. Nolan is a partner at Carmody MacDonald and focuses his practice on commercial real estate, banking and business law. Carmody MacDonald is a St. Louis-based law firm offering business, individual, and litigation services and focused on establishing close relationships with clients, serving as valued counselors and providing exceptional service.

This column is for informational purposes only. Nothing herein should be considered legal advice or as creating an attorney-client relationship. The choice of a lawyer is an important decision and should not be based solely on advertisements.

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