As the number of vaccine rollouts continue to grow, so has the number of workplaces ready to open at increased capacity. Yet, with over a year of office workers growing accustomed to working from home, it begs the question: How do we give workers the confidence to return to the office? This ongoing pandemic has propelled a new wave of workplace protocols with a sense of heightened awareness and the need for prioritization of health.
Global design firm M Moser Associates, a multinational interior design and architecture company, understands this, and has been a leader of innovative planning for the workplace. Their clear vision is backed by their impressive roster of Fortune 500 clients such as Telus International Philippines and PayPal.
Donn Tan, the director of the M Moser Philippines shared a few of his own insights over the past year, working through the pandemic.
Tan begins by noting that, “Workplace design during COVID-19 does not stem from some blueprint, prepared early on with an ‘in case of emergency’ stamped on it. The reality is, no one had a ready set of protocols on what to do.”
Instead, what Tan attributes his design response to is perspective. “The several offices of M Moser scattered across the world served as cues, taking safety protocol notes from Beijing, New York, London, Sydney, Paris, and others, creating this hybrid of ideas,” Tan said.
With the pressures of COVID-19 weighing down on everyone’s minds, it is important to have a reassurance of safety in the public spaces we visit. For M Moser, this begins with air quality. For them, designing in the present time means the ability to add cleaner fresh air, and sterilize air that is being recycled through the use of filters and UV equipment, and monitor the air quality through the use of sensors.
Tan also emphasized the importance of educating the people in the workplace with the use of visual cues that creates a heightened sense of awareness and makes COVID protocols intuitive.
In the years prior to the pandemic, office real estate prices have soared through the roof. The need to maximize space efficiently has become increasingly popular through the likes of open desking. The pandemic, however, presented challenges as working closely with others on a shared desk increases the risk of virus transmission. In the early days of the pandemic, installing sneeze guards was the common and knee-jerk solution. Tan is skeptical, “I don’t really believe in the effectiveness of sneeze guards, but I understand that they provide some form of comfort, creating a feeling of personal space. Instead, what we usually advise our clients is to adopt a tic-tac-toe approach. This reduces office density by about 30 to 50 percent, and that helps with mitigating the spread of the virus.”
At present, the concern for most workspaces is the transition into the new normal. Now, employers are scrambling to create a working environment that encourages employees to leave the comforts of home and find an equal amount of solace in the office.
“Beyond the safety of the workspace, there is a need to address overall wellness. This includes mental and physical health. We want offices to have meditation areas, and multifunctional rooms that can easily be converted to, say, a yoga studio, for example.”
M Moser has taken on this feat, beginning with their own. Tan expounds on this stating that each branch has been incorporating recreational areas to their workplace, coining each of their global offices as a “living lab.”
This new age innovation is still a balancing act, with a lot of trial and error. “We want to practice what we preach,” Tan noted with quiet conviction. “Overall wellbeing is something important to me and M Moser Associates. While the design industry’s response is gradually evolving, I truly believe in its positive outcome.”