May 27, 2020
Workplace experiences and interactions will be forever changed as the world begins to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. While we can't predict exactly what that landscape looks like, we can make intelligent design decisions and develop new ways of thinking about space to help people feel comfortable and safe while working in the office.
Along those lines, Herman Miller and Interior Investments, two firms involved in the production and distribution of office furniture, sponsored a design competition asking for design ideas that reflected what a post COVID-19 workplace could look like.
The aim of the Interior Investments "Covignette" Design Competition was to create a "safe, fun workplace design that brings comfort and confidence to people when returning to work."
We are delighted to share that Epstein's Interiors department partook in, and won, the competition, which required designers to create a vignette of a workstation cluster and a collaborative space, including a conference/huddle room, lounge/open seating area, and ingress/egress routes.
To tackle this challenge, Epstein's designers set out to create a holistic picture, focusing on multiple senses and incorporating both old and new technologies. The sensory interaction of the interior environment - through soft organic elements, engaging visual cues, touchless technology, and improved building systems - became a secure, inviting and healthy office.
While first impressions for most of us happens through sight, lighting plays a major component of the overall look and feel of a space. Our design used lighting scenes pre-programmed for the different spaces and activities, thus creating an inviting and productive office. For example, the lounge area has a softer, quieter scene while the café is brighter and more lively. Conference rooms can be set up for different modes depending on the activity taking place. All of these settings are controlled through individual employees' personal devices. Sanitation stations with antibacterial hand wash and PPE masks are now integrated into the architecture at various points within the space, and subtle finish changes guide individuals through the office from ingress to egress.
We considered how much any individual is required to touch surfaces while visiting the office, reducing common touch areas within our design solution. Most doors in our space are fully automatic, motion sensor operated sliding doors. Some doors that are adjacent to path of travel areas will have a 1 to 2 second delay, opening only when they sense a person is there to use the door and not merely walking by. Elevators are touchless and can be called using a mobile phone app or key card. In shared spaces, we reduced common touch areas by incorporating technology to interact with both employees personal devices and use voice activation to control presentations, lighting levels, and even temperature. In the café area, we eliminated upper cabinets, utilized surfaces with anti-microbial properties, incorporated foot-operated hardware at the base cabinets and trash cans, and limited seating areas to accommodate less communal gathering.
Clean air technologies have been utilized in healthcare settings for a long time. To improve indoor air quality in our office, we integrated GPS (Global Plasma Solutions) products into the HVAC system to deliver clean air that is safe and healthy by eliminating airborne particulates, odors and pathogens. Living walls were used to promote healthier workspaces. Plants act as natural air filters, reducing carbon monoxide and pollutants.
Speakers were included in each space, which can be used to play appropriate music, block other noise with white, pink or brown noise, and transmit company information without gathering all employees into one congested area.
Furniture arrangement was also highly considered. As such, workstations were organized in an organic pattern, staggering entry points and eliminating a single path of travel to each workstation. This gives individuals more space to move around within a cluster of stations, allowing visitors to comfortably collaborate without being too close or concerned about someone moving past them.
In the conference room, we eliminated the main table and provided individual seating options with a work table. Arranged in a circle, meeting participants can collaborate with a central focus while maintaining social distancing. Antibacterial treated, semi-transparent curtains create a sense of security and encourage social distancing while collaborating. Lockers provided for employees give space for personal items to be kept in the office, eliminating the need for items to travel in and out of the office and further reducing opportunities for contamination.
The Epstein design team that created this winning contest entry include Christine Hart, Laura Petrocci, Anna Kopp, Jenny Kuether and Yan Weng. Congratulations, team, on an incredibly well thought-out workplace environment!