Working in the New Normal
ANA Design Co-Founder, Director – ANA Designs, Mumbai
As we embrace the new normal, the design challenges posed by COVID-19 have brought about the need for an evolved design sensitivity and thinking. Through this new lens, we need to reimagine our workspaces to enable a safe and adaptable environment with maximum efficiency and functionality while ensuring that it is both economically and socially viable.
Linear or running workstations have been the norm for workspaces, that are mainly designed for the IT/ITES, and Fintech companies. These workstations, although efficient for spatial use, pose new challenges for safety and physical distancing. An alternative solution to counter these problems can be the possibility of accommodating staggered workstations that would ensure adequate social distancing. This method of planning ensures that there is no back-to-back workstation, thereby preventing people from exposing themselves and making themselves vulnerable. With the help of glass partitions, barriers can be introduced to not only protect the employees but also provide sufficient social contact and hence, promote collaboration.
Hygiene is a paramount consideration for workspaces today. Therefore, it is essential to focus on creating a hands-free office space. Through technological aids — such as UV sanitizers at entry/exit locations for offices and lift lobbies, hands-free doors with door pedals, and auto thermal scanning at main entries and at various strategic locations as per the requirements, we can facilitate a safe work environment.
Since toilets are often breeding grounds for infections, an automatic flush system can be used in the urinals to ensure hands-free usage and water conservation. Another layer of safety has been added by using sensor-based taps and soap dispensers to make the restrooms minimal contact zones.
To comply with social distancing norms with ease, signage and wayfinding techniques can be a great tool to direct and guide users through spaces. To ensure that social distancing is followed in circulation spaces where there is maximum footfall, occupants must be asked to stand in four corners of an elevator and after every three steps on escalators. This is applied to the strategic placement of appropriate and comprehensive signages.
Since physical meetings and collaboration cannot be replaced for certain workflows, boardrooms and collaboration pockets must be designed keeping social distancing requirements in mind. One can achieve this by capacity reduction, by using 8-seater meeting rooms for four people and four for two, with seven-feet distance facing each other and left-to-right.
With the current pandemic in mind, one of the most significant challenges faced by governments around the world is being able to balance the economic and safety challenges posed by it. While we mitigate the impacts of the virus for our personal safety and wellbeing, we must also begin to take into account financial repercussions, before we have lost more livelihoods than lives, and the first step to doing so is by creating safer and efficient work environments.