On March 11th, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic and an international health crisis. The result has been a series of shutdowns and confusing roadmaps for individuals and businesses trying to navigate a new normal. COVID-19 has impacted every area of our lives and focused our attention on health and wellness like never before.
For offices ready to reopen, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) offers regularly updated recommendations, including: conducting daily health checks and hazard assessments, encouraging employees to wear cloth face coverings, implementing policies and practices for social distancing and improving building ventilation systems.
But beyond this guidance, employees and employers might consider short-term wellness and longer-term design changes that create an environment that maximizes everyone’s ability to stay healthy now and in the future.
Teresa Rand of Rand Consulting, a consulting firm that advocates for businesses to invest in employees and individual wellness through holistic practices and yoga, advises employees returning to work to “have discipline plus knowledge.” Early in her career, Rand was a group exercise instructor, going into schools and training teachers. Then, as CEO of the Volusia Flagler Family YMCA, Rand implemented the Live Your Life Challenge with Halifax Hospital and started a partnership with Florida Health Care Plans for YMCA wellness offerings through their company insurance plans.
When asked about wellness in the office, Rand says that beyond the standardized health practices that most businesses are putting into place, employees should focus on personal wellness to keep their immune systems up and manage their stress levels during this time of upheaval. Rand believes it is important that businesses remain mindful and encouraging of best wellness practices during the pandemic, including “encouraging employees to schedule more time to work out regularly.” Rand also suggests we follow some general guidelines to promote wellness whether working from home or in the office:
1. Get up every hour, if not more frequently, for a minimum of 5 to 10 minutes. While up, make sure you stretch, doing little exercises to keep your mental focus up and prevent muscle pain.
2. Invest in a good chair! If working from home avoid setting up your quarantine office on the dining room table where the chairs may not promote best posture, the couch, bed, or floor. You should find a space where you can use an ergonomically correct chair for you.
3. Set small goals & find an accountability partner
COVID-19 isn’t just shaping the present; it’s also altering our future. Dana Smith, Vice President of DJ Design, the Holly Hill based architecture and design firm, says he sees some smaller design changes becoming permanently integrated into our lives.
“Personally, we instituted social distancing within our office space. We networked our computer system for remote access and several of our staff worked from home for several weeks,” says Smith.
And although the firm hasn’t experienced any retrenchment from current clients or been instructed to redesign any spaces so far, “changes will come from the bottom-up rather than top-down,” he says. “Architects respond to the demands made by the users of the spaces that we create, and we must be sensitive to their concerns. Peoples’ behaviors towards others have changed. There have been adaptations to existing spaces, demarking lines on the floor, ‘sneeze-guards’ at check-out counters and signage directing movements within. Hygiene stations at the entrance to public spaces will become common. Interior spaces will become larger, giving people more room to move about. Library shelves will be spaced further apart. Restaurants will provide more outdoor seating space and maneuvering space between tables will be increased significantly. Booths will be replaced by smaller tables and seating surfaces will become more easily disinfected,” Smith notes.
Despite talks of moving back towards cubicles and shields to keep employees safer, “current projects that DJ Design has are a mixture of standard ‘closed-door offices’ and open, flex-space driven more directly by costs and privacy concerns” Smith says. However, he believes that in the future they will be moving away from open-office planning, choosing instead to establish smaller private office spaces.
When asked about CDC recommendations to improve the building ventilation system to keep employees safe, Smith replied “we have one client questioning the efficacy of ultra-violet ‘filters’, but whether it becomes the norm remains to be seen. At the very least, air-conditioning systems, which are vital in Florida, will become more highly-filtered and more outside air will be introduced within.”