A View Towards the Workplace of 2024: IIDA Members Forecast an Office Designed for Enhanced Wellness

The following article was a submission from a team representing IIDA in the May 2020 CoreNet Global Hackathon: COVID-19 Virtual Ideation Experience. The team included commercial interior designers and educators from across the country, as well as staff from IIDA Headquarters. 

The CoreNet Global Hackathon brought together over 1,000 participants from the corporate real estate and design communities to reflect on and develop collective solutions for immediate and future response to the COVID-19 crisis in the workplace. The discussions provide a roadmap for the commercial interior design and real estate industries, to support their clients in returning to a post-COVID-19 workplace.

Authors: Team lead: John Czarnecki, Hon. IIDA, Deputy Director and Senior Vice President, IIDA, Ryan Ben, Student Engagement & Advancement Manager, IIDA, Jane Hallinan, IIDA, Interior Designer, Perkins Eastman, Paul LaBrant, IIDA, Associate Principal, STG Design, Jon Otis, IIDA, Principal, Object Agency; Professor, Pratt Institute, Sandra Tripp, IIDA, Principal, Huntsman Architectural Group, Alissa Wehmueller, IIDA, Principal, Helix Architecture + Design


How will a new workplace be designed for human wellness in 2024, a time (hopefully) well after the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic impact and a time (again, hopefully) of U.S. economic recovery? That is the premise that frames this team’s discussion on the future of the workplace. 

As designers—not healthcare or economic experts—we chose to take the long view to a time that may be more settled. In the current moment, in May 2020, responses are largely speculative and based on great uncertainty. This seemingly dystopian time, with COVID-19 remaining and causing economic upheaval, will likely last many months and perhaps well into the next year. As humans, we need to look optimistically ahead towards the more distant future. That is with the understanding that we will have endured, adapted, and learned from a time of both global pandemic and difficult financial conditions for many individuals and businesses. 

One lasting impact of this moment is a heightened consciousness of human wellness in interiors. As designers, we believe that the best design is always sustainable and has wellness in mind—it’s not an additive aspect. With that assumption, how will a new workplace be designed as the innovation hub of an organization, with human wellness at the forefront, in 2024?

Human Behavior and Culture

Before we discuss design and real estate issues within an office, we’ll focus on people. In a post-pandemic world, we believe a heightened awareness of personal responsibility, agency, and necessary mutual trust will drive many decisions in our lives and workplaces. Flexibility will be key, and smart employers will communicate this in action and policy with employees allowed to continue to work remotely when feasible. Employees who do come to the office will have increased personal agency over scheduled work hours. Remote work, flexible hours, and work during non-peak hours are also issues of social equity for all.

For a time, the future workplace will be reflective of the trauma of the pandemic and the economic conditions it has created. To combat this lasting impact, savvy companies will design their offices to reflect stability, safety, and confidence, emphasizing teams and encouraging all forms of collaboration, both digital and in person.

For the employee in such a company, this will engender a higher level of mutual trust and commitment. Individuals will be more mindful of their personal space and cleanliness and the impact that they have on others. Like a thoughtful gym member, employees will be tasked with leaving their desks, meeting rooms, and communal spaces as clean as they found them, wiping down surfaces as they wrap up their time in a space. Rather than relying solely on an evening cleaning service, all office occupants will have shared responsibility for cleanliness and sanitation throughout the day.

Density 

Overall square footage per employee decreased in recent decades, driven largely by economic and regional commercial real estate conditions as well as a company’s functional need. While a return-to-work-during-pandemic time in 2020 may require workplaces to limit capacity for a while, we look ahead to a post-pandemic future: Economic pressures for tighter density will likely continue, especially in dense urban cities like New York. With tighter budgets, companies will largely not have the luxury to expend more square footage per employee. The question is: how flexible is the space?

While we do not envision that the amount of square footage per employee will change drastically between now and a post-pandemic time, how designers program and plan a workplace interior will continue to evolve. The impact of forced remote working in 2020—and the resulting regularization of flexibility to work remotely—will encourage organizations to re-evaluate how they allocate real estate, increasing the shift from square footage for individual use to increased square footage for collaborative, shared spaces. Coming to the office to actively collaborate will be a more purposeful decision that will require a different tool kit of policies for a number of companies.

New spaces and adjacencies in a future post-pandemic workplace.

Enhanced Entry Sequence

For new or renovated workplaces where square footage allows, we anticipate the design of an enhanced transitional entry sequence. Analogies: a mudroom in one’s own home where shoes and coats are taken off, or a gym where one changes clothes in a locker room prior to entering the active gym floor area. In an office, an enhanced entry might have ample closets or even lockers for coats, bags, and a change of shoes so that staff can enter the work area without bringing those items far beyond the office entrance. This can also be a place to check temperatures of employees and visitors and, ideally, a well-designed hand-washing station is incorporated here.

Open Collaboration Area

In the past decade, the amount of casual seating has increased as a percentage of both an interior’s square footage and of a project’s budget. That will likely continue. As the workforce will be increasingly accustomed to working anywhere with portable technology, soft seating will remain appealing as both a change of pace from a desk as well as for comfort, aesthetics, and casual small meetings. How does the design of this area, with communal tables, soft seating, and shared spaces, change? 

An open collaboration area will have extended benefit as a strategic buffer zone—seemingly breathing space—designed to be more integrated between desking areas. Touchdown areas for employees needing places to briefly work between meetings, flexible furniture that can be moved and reconfigured to meet changing needs, and stand-up conference areas for quick gatherings will all become regular features. Furniture with easily cleanable finishes/upholsteries will be key. The communal, standing table, which has risen to prominence in the workplace, will be restricted in the immediate near future. But, in a post-pandemic era, human nature will bring us to again gather at communal tables.

Workplace Desking

The open office is not dead. But what changes? While we may see some impulsive overcorrection reactions in the 2020 time of pandemic to build partitions and regress to cubicle-like workstations, these are not long-term solutions for quality workplaces. Cheap, quick fixes are just that, and will not endure. Evidence-based savvy design principles will lead to systematic changes through research that can affect both short-term needs and long-term functionality, without sacrificing good design aesthetics.

The design of furniture components will likely adapt into revised configurations that respect distancing where square footage allows for it and supports various workplace activities. Open workstations and benching will, very likely, continue in the long-term future, and the amount of space between individuals may be increased, again, where square footage allows. Modularity and flexibility will more regularly inform design and engineering of any systematic modifications. The process must include concerted research and development investigating material suitability, resiliency, and maintenance. 

Hoteling and Shared Desking

Hoteling and shared desking—agile workplace seating—will not go away, and may become more prevalent due to a more flexible workforce splitting time between the office and home, and overall real estate density issues. Shared desking will continue in the long-term, coupled with the lasting pandemic impact of heightened personal responsibility for cleanliness after leaving a desk or table. 

Phone/Huddle Rooms

The need for privacy does not go away, but the quick turnaround of people using this small space will adjust. These areas will be outfitted to host small/individual video conferencing, connecting via one’s laptop, tablet, or phone.

Conference Rooms

Although conference room size will not largely change, capacity may be somewhat reduced compared to the current norm. Meetings will more regularly be a blend of in-person attendees with others conferenced-in remotely. In the room, comfortable distancing will potentially remain as conference etiquette, with chairs spaced between three and four feet apart. With the camera becoming more important, additional seating will be to one side of the room opposite the main presentation/monitor/camera wall. Furniture will be flexible to be configured for the needs of the meeting. Rooms will more regularly have integrated sound and video with touchless voice-activated features. The norm of back-to-back meetings in conference room scheduling will be staggered with 15-to-30-minute intervals to allow for cleaning and increased air circulation.

Technology

Technology in the workplace continues to advance, of course. The future office will see continued advances, with integrated video technology becoming more regularized. The reasons are many: Because the workforce will include a greater blend of those within an office and those working remotely, and because we have become far more accustomed to video-conferenced meetings. With cues from healthcare interiors, workplaces may also include more touchless door openings as well.

Kitchens and Break Areas

In recent years, the employee kitchen and break area has increased in square footage and has become more open and connected to the workplace as a social hub for both casual conversations as well as nourishment. This space has become an important workplace amenity, signaling to employees that wellness is important to the company. In the short-term, while the pandemic is still with us, companies may restrict the use of these office kitchen areas. But, as we look long-term to a post-pandemic future, we foresee that the desire to have the kitchen as a place for food, drink, and conversation will absolutely continue. Great scrutiny will be placed on the kitchen’s footprint and placement adjacent to the workspaces, though, and attention will be placed on easily cleanable surfaces, pressure-latch opening drawers and cabinets that can be opened without considerable touch, and perhaps two sinks—one designated solely for hand washing. To enhance wellness, healthy choices in foods and beverages will be conscientiously selected. Overall, while potentially dormant or restricted in the immediate future, the kitchen will be an increasingly important amenity and social aspect of the office.

Indoor Air Quality and the Outdoor Workplace

In a building’s design, the quality of air ventilation and filtration systems will be scrutinized more commonly. Premium indoor air quality will be paramount in all new construction, with an increasing desire to provide for individual control of airflow. Building owners will also be pressured to improve existing building systems when possible. Air quality will be viewed increasingly as a human right and equity issue, not solely a checkmark for certification achievements. Designers will also maximize daylight and views, and create connections to nature through materials, plants, and select artwork. With that in mind, our desire to spend time outdoors will drive an investment in functional, comfortable, and accessible outdoor spaces wherever climate and real estate allow. 

Lead photo by: Garrett Rowland. All images courtesy of Huntsman Architectural Group.

For more discourse on the future of design and workplace design, watch IIDA’s Collective D(esign): Episode 6 | The Changing Landscape of Workplace Design, and register for Episode 9 | Design Responds: Community Support and Innovation.

Collective (D)esign: The Changing Landscape of Workplace Design

In response to our rapidly changing world, IIDA brings you a design-focused dialogue on the effects of a global crisis. Watch the sixth webinar in the series today. 

What will the workplace of the future look like?

Watch IIDA Executive Vice President and CEO Cheryl S. Durst, Hon FIIDA, and a panel of design experts discuss the changing landscape of workplace design as they examine health and wellness concerns, shifting floorplans and floorplates, collaborative spaces, workplace arrangement, remote working, and shifting culture. This thoughtful group shares their insight in an open dialogue on adaptability and new possibilities for creative expression in the workplace.

This webinar is registered for 1 IDCEC HSW CEU. To learn how to earn your CEU credit, visit IIDA.org for more information.

Watch all the webinars in the series here.

Panelists:

  • Adam Farmerie, Partner, AvroKO, New York
  • James Lee, Director of Design, Hospitality, LEO A DALY, Los Angeles
  • Margaret McMahon, Senior Vice President and Global Director, Wimberly Interiors, New York
  • Meg Prendergast, IIDA, Principal, The Gettys Group, Chicago

The next webinar in the series, Product Design and Manufacturing: Change and Adaptability, will take place on May 7, 2020, 1:30-2:30 p.m. Central. Register today.

The Education Community Responds to Change: The Conversation Continued

On April 9, IIDA hosted Design Online: The Education Community Responds to Change, the third episode in our Collective (D)esign webinar series of interactive community discussions. This conversation, hosted by IIDA Executive Vice President and CEO Cheryl S. Durst, Hon FIIDA, and moderated by Ryan Ben, IIDA’s student engagement and advancement manager, featured a panel of educators and students centering on the changing education and employment landscape.

Panelists fielded questions from our audience covering everything from internships and altering educational programs to balancing an increased need for mental and physical health and contributing to community aid. This webinar was attended by close to 1,000 members of the international interior design community who submitted dozens of questions, many of which could not be addressed due to time constraints.

In an effort to expand the conversation, we’ve compiled answers to additional questions, alongside highlights from this discussion from panelists Tyler Hatton, Student IIDA, The Ohio State University campus center co-leader, Ohio/Kentucky Chapter; Rebekah Matheny, IIDA, assistant professor of interior design, Department of Design, The Ohio State University; Jon Otis, IIDA, founder and principal, Object Agency (OlA), professor, Pratt Institute; and Meghan Webster, AIA, principal and global education practice area leader, Gensler. 

What can firms do right now to help engage students?

Jon Otis, IIDA, founder and principal,Object Agency (OlA), professor, Pratt Institute

Jon Otis: Firms must try and consider how to engage graduates or interns and allow them to do something—paid or unpaid. Provide them an experience of some type so that they learn and grow and will be better prepared for eventual employment. Perhaps there is a new model,which refers to the past ‘atelier’ concept; or a new ‘virtual’ model of engagement.

Tyler Hatton: Take the time to view the senior showcase work from schools in your region, reach out to the students and ask questions if you are curious, or maybe offer opportunities for insight and critique. Many schools will probably switch to digital exhibitions as The Ohio State Department of Design has, but the students are not getting the professional connections and feedback as they normally would from the experience. 

You can set up virtual coffee chats with students so they can build interview and communication skills, as well as build their firm and industry professional networks, to prepare for opportunities that may arise in the future.

How do we maintain community at our schools and campus centers?

Tyler Hatton: Through social media channels or other virtual platforms, offer a summer design competition after the semesters’ work is finished that would be either open to all students or be specific in nature to recent graduates. You can also host a virtual book club related to design or put on mini design skill challenges like hand sketching or rendering.

Tyler Hatton, Student IIDA, The Ohio State University campus center co-leader

How do I find a job or internship?

Rebekah Matheny: I would first start by reaching out to your undergraduate advisor, they are often the main point person for companies interested in an internship. Our advisor posts all inquiries to our Slack channel. I would then email your professor mentor, who often have professional contacts that they can reach out to for a more targeted search. I also think your local manufacturer’s reps are a great resource, they know all the design firms and often have a pulse on who’s searching. Also check your IIDA chapter’s website, most sites have an internship or job search section. 

What skills do I need as a graduating interior designer for this virtual world?

Rebekah Matheny: Communication is key! Both verbal and visual. As professionals, we often send presentation decks to clients before walking them through the information over a conference call. Making sure that you have clear graphic communication that uses a combination of the written word, drawings, diagrams, or tags explaining the conceptual ideas or design strategy is important. Think of this as storytelling and the more you can visually narrate in a clear sequence the easier it is to digest and comprehend. Through telecommuting, you will be able to connect with people all over the world who are in different time zones and speak different languages, so you should allow people to see and even translate the information prior to the verbal presentation over the call becomes more important. 

Working to develop your visual storytelling and communication is a much-needed skill and can be demonstrated through your portfolio as well as your studio project presentations. With that, verbal communication is also critical. So practice your speaking ability as you want to come across as comfortable, confident, and knowledgeable. Presenting virtually is a bit different since you are unable to “read the room” as you typically would, make sure to leave time to pause to let people catch up and also check in with them to make sure they don’t have any questions throughout the conversation. 

What educational experiences should I seek out to supplement my education?

Rebekah Matheny, IIDA, assistant professor of interior design

Rebekah Matheny: Competitions—look at competitions, current or past, as these will help expand your portfolio and give you a chance to keep your mind and skills sharp. IIDA, IDEC, Steelcase, RDI, PAVE—there are many options to choose from. You can also use this time to work on your portfolio, either in creating it or expanding it. You can go back and add to or improve past projects. Or you can give yourself a weekly challenge, like doing one new rendering a week. This not only helps improve and expand your skills, but could become a feature in your portfolio. There are a lot of YouTube skill tutorial videos that you could use to help with this. You could also create your own project assignment, maybe fill the gap of an area you’ve not worked on. For example, maybe you’ve not done a restaurant or a hospitality project, but are interested in doing that professionally. You can create your own prompt and give yourself a time frame to complete it. 

What educational experiences should I seek out to supplement my education?

Rebekah Matheny: Seek out continuing education as well.  Many manufacturers are offering CEU’s, which is a great way to extend your education beyond the classroom, learning the same information as many professionals. I know the IIDA Ohio/Kentucky Chapter is also doing a series of benefactor CEU’s, this is a great way to get connected to your local professions and manufacturers while also extending your education.

I also recommend reading, this situation affords you the opportunity to read books that you might not otherwise have the time for. For example, if you want to expand your understanding of sustainability you might like Cradle to Cradle by McDonough and Braungart, Biomimicry by Benyus, The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability—Designing for Abundance also by McDonough, or Fashion and Sustainability by Fletcher and Grose. You could also look and see what classes are offered at your university this summer. 

What resources are available to students and educators from associations, firms, vendors, manufacturers, etc.?

Meghan Webster: Rebekah’s point that the global situation has amplified the disparity across the socio-economic and cultural backgrounds of students was spot-on and seemed to resonate deeply with the audience. The Learning from Home component of our Education Engagement Index Survey that we’ve developed is based on this research around diverse learning styles and contexts, underscoring that if we design for all learners (instead of a mythical average), we design for everyone in between. 

The conversation posed some salient questions around what we can apply to future design for learning and working environments based on this abrupt transition to the virtual world. In the wake of the global pandemic, we released this piece that examined this topic as we’re currently experiencing it, and this piece poses a similar question as we look at the much longer term. The immediate situation is forcing us to learn tools and new forms of behavior quickly, and the more we all can gain literacy in this arena, the faster we will be ready for what comes next.

Meghan Webster, AIA, principal and global education practice area leader, Gensler

What is the best advice for new graduates looking for employment with incredible uncertainty?

Rebekah Matheny: First, know that this is temporary, this too shall pass, and we will bounce back. Secondly, know that every experience contributes towards your career development and your personal development. You may have an ideal career path that you had charted out, and right now you may have to take a detour, take a position in an area of practice that wasn’t your first choice, but that experience can be a great stepping stone, add to your skill and knowledge set, and it will lead you back to where you wanted to head. Or maybe it will reveal something new about yourself and set you on a new, and possibly better trajectory. As designers, experiences are cumulative, and every experience is valuable—even if it’s not a “designer” experience — after all, we are designers for and with people.

So let’s say you find a temporary job at a grocery store since that’s in high demand during this pandemic. This will allow you to understand what it’s like to be a worker in that environment, and could lead you to be a more empathetic retail designer in the future. It’s all about how you look at the experiences you are gaining.

Should students still look for fall internships, or wait until the pandemic clears?

Rebekah Matheny: It never hurts to inquire, so I would certainly be reaching out to firms that you are interested in. It’s a great opportunity to establish a connection and to keep the line of communication going. You can express your concern for how the pandemic is impacting the industry and the world, and use this as an opportunity to ask specific questions about how it is impacting their work, their area of practice, and how designers are tackling this issue.

How do you deal with the multiple hand drawn iterations of ideas when learning online?

Jon Otis: My graduate design studio has been more challenging, and no matter what we resolve, it is unlikely to change my belief that working on paper—marking-up, designing, sketching, pin-ups and seeing design at a larger scale off-screen—is better. Then of course there are maquettes, models, materials, textiles and those tactile elements that exponentially enhance the design learning process. That is a vitally missing part of what we do.

Do you think universities will be open starting in the fall?

Rebekah Matheny: I am hopeful that they will! But with all things, I like to hope for the best but plan for the contingency. I, and I’m sure many professors, will be using the summer to develop a plan for teaching on-ground and on-line. It’s a possibility that we may start the semester and then have to shift to virtual later if a second wave of the pandemic hits before there is a vaccine. No matter what, I will be evaluating what worked, what didn’t, and what could be improved from this past experience and looking for ways to bring the best of the experience into my on-ground instruction and seeing innovative ways to bring on-ground experiences into the virtual world.

What do I do about anxiety?

Rebekah Matheny: Mental health is an important issue we are all facing right now. This situation is causing a lot of new stressors we didn’t face before. The stress from the pandemic itself is compounded for many students by the stress of displacement, new working environments, loss of income, removal from their support system of peers and professors, etc. I would begin by looking into what resources your university offers. They may have online tools to help manage stress and anxiety, hotlines that you can call, and/or virtual workshops to help guide students through this. Personally, I would establish a routine that balances your workload with your mental health. This might mean carving out time for yoga or on-line workout classes, taking a nature walk, meditation and breathing exercises, or even just ensuring you get up from your desk every hour or two to stretch and briefly get a change of scenery. Working these actions into your day will also help with the mental and physical toll that being at your desk and in front of your computer all day causes. Having these moments at a dedicated time each day will help you have a rhythm, give you something to look forward to, and also make your mental and physical health a priority.

You can watch the full conversation, and the rest of our Collective D(esign) series here.

If you are a design student currently struggling or preparing for your next steps as you graduate in an uncertain time, reach out to IIDA for support. We’ve compiled a list of resources for students and educators here.

COLLECTIVE D(ESIGN): Hospitality Design Navigates Change

In response to our rapidly changing world, IIDA brings you a design-focused dialogue on the effects of a global crisis. Watch the fifth webinar in the series today. 

Leaders in hospitality design whose clients include major global brands and renowned restaurateurs address challenges in overseeing a practice during this time. Join moderator John Czarnecki, Hon. IIDA, deputy director and senior vice president of IIDA, and a panel of design experts based in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, as they discuss the re-emergence of the hospitality industry, design for the human experience, and the future of interiors of hotels, restaurants, and places to gather.

The conversation, while focused on hospitality—the design of hotels, restaurants, and the hospitality industry overall—touched on topics of interest for the entire commercial interior design industry. The designers shared how their firms are supporting their employees, the status of their projects in the U.S. and globally, and how the business of their clients—hoteliers and restaurateurs—are impacted. They also shared expertise on how this moment will influence hospitality interior design in the immediate term and post-pandemic future, reflecting on how lessons from this moment could affect restaurants and hotel communal spaces.

As Czarnecki noted in the session’s opening remarks, “Even if you are not a designer in the hospitality sector, you enjoy going to restaurants, you travel, and you’re certainly interested in the future of the hospitality industry as an important sector of the economy. The designers in this session also offer lessons that can be applicable to the design of other projects as well.”

This webinar is registered for 1 IDCEC HSW CEU. To learn more about earning your CEU credit, visit IIDA.org for more information.

Watch all the webinars in the series here.

Panelists:

  • Adam Farmerie, Partner, AvroKO, New York
  • James Lee, Director of Design, Hospitality, LEO A DALY, Los Angeles
  • Margaret McMahon, Senior Vice President and Global Director, Wimberly Interiors, New York
  • Meg Prendergast, IIDA, Principal, The Gettys Group, Chicago

The next webinar in the series, Episode 6 | The Changing Landscape of Workplace Design will take place on April 30, 2020, 1:30-2:30 p.m. Central. Register today.

Carolyn BaRoss: Healthcare Designers Facing the Challenge of Global Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic is having a profound impact on the world around us, touching all of our lives and heightening awareness of the importance of healthcare and healthcare environments. In this interview, Carolyn BaRoss, IIDA, the New York-based firmwide healthcare interior design director at Perkins and Will, shares her thoughts on how the firm and her healthcare design practice has adjusted, and how they will move forward in a new normal. She offers lessons that can be applicable to all interior designers and architects, not just those focused on healthcare.


IIDA: How have your teams and colleagues adjusted to working remotely and continuing their projects?

Carolyn BaRoss: Within our firm, we have genuine concern for each other’s well-being and safety, and gratitude for the ability to continue to work and create together remotely through our firm’s robust technology infrastructure. Overcommunication and clarity of communication—that is, communicating clearly and often—is a highly effective rule of thumb, particularly when a project is just getting started. But once things get moving, compassion is key: we understand and accept the need for personal flexibility and shifting work schedules, because there are unique challenges for everyone. We know our people are doing their best.

IIDA: How has the firm implemented technology to both continue the work as well as to encourage communication and continued collaboration?

CB: We benefit from a suite of digital project and collaboration management tools that help keep everyone engaged and thriving with some semblance of normalcy. Here in New York, we continue to gather the entire studio for our Monday morning “all hands” meeting, where multiple studio leaders present updates, and we continue to hold project team meetings, just as we always have. More recently, our firm has introduced a series of cross-disciplinary meetings with diverse practice leaders from all over the world during which we share ideas and strategies for our “new normal”—today and in the future. And finally, formerly “analog” culture and community events that help us connect on a personal level have now gone digital, including virtual coffee breaks and tea time, shared movies, group yoga, and design dialogues.

IIDA: Is there an aspect of your firm’s workflow that has not drastically changed in this time?

CB: We’ve always done work in China by virtual collaboration between our Shanghai and New York teams, for example. One project in China, which had been delayed due to the COVID-19 outbreak, is now ramped back up as people return to the workplace there.


“One of the silver linings is that the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed an intrinsic global community interconnectedness. Ultimately, helping and being part of the solution matters most—whether you’re a designer or not.”

– Carolyn BaRoss

IIDA: Your firm has strong research-based approaches and initiatives. How is that informing your approach to the work at this time?

The urgency for factual, evidence-based strategies has led to collaboration between our healthcare interiors team and our firm’s commercial interiors clients and colleagues. This convergence of practices has been positive for a number of reasons, not the least of which is a sharing of our healthcare research and technical knowledge, including designers, and that of clinically trained nursing leadership within our firm. Suddenly, healthcare interior design best practices are human health best practices, relevant for all building types, touching everything from space planning, materiality, and detailing to technology, engineering systems, and operations.

We see this both as an extraordinary opportunity and as a responsibility. We are sharing scientific research and knowledge, but our goal is to ensure that this research and knowledge are used appropriately and intelligently in support of “do-no-harm” protocols. We are somewhat concerned that the fear generated by COVID-19 and community spread will prompt emotional, partially-informed reactions that may actually cause more harm than good over time—for example, the inappropriate use of antibacterial and antimicrobial products.

IIDA: At this moment, many of your healthcare clients in the U.S. are overwhelmed with work that is focused on the immediate crisis. How do you continue the communication process to move design projects forward with them?

CB: We have altered the format and abbreviated communications into smaller pieces so that clinical leadership can review and respond during breaks, while handling the COVID-19 crisis. Instead of stopping project work, we have heard that breaking up their days this way has given them a moment to think optimistically about building a positive future, and it’s been a welcome respite from the present crisis. We already had established a good rapport with the client team, so virtual and truncated communications remain effective for this period.

One change we are seeing on the clients’ side is the way they’re delivering care to their patients. For non-COVID-19 care teams like elective/specialty care services, there’s a slowdown in patient flow. Non-emergency ambulatory clinics are closed, and their caregivers are available via telemedicine portals. Some have furloughed health system employees and or reduced salaries. I have also heard of physicians experiencing a significant reduction in hours.

IIDA: How is Perkins and Will engaged in strategic-response design through the adaptation of existing healthcare facilities or repurposing for surge capacity? 

The firm has several initiatives, each of them driven by how the virus has impacted a given studio’s location, and many of them are really tapping into the creative power of design thinking.

  • Our Seattle studio has been working with Swedish Medical Center to create a digital dashboard that aggregates critical data in real-time from their regional hospital network. The data includes hospital space usage, bed availability, health statistics from national databases, availability of medical gases, and the sanitization of space and equipment. It is necessary for making smart, split-second decisions. Rather than waiting for drawings to be printed up and presented, a real-time digital dashboard presents the data in a cohesive, visually compelling, easy-to-interpret way. This groundbreaking work is currently being beta-tested with the client, and our firm’s IT team is heavily involved. Our Seattle team has also been working with Swedish on quick-response and temporary efforts to accommodate an influx of patients including building out temporary new spaces to accommodate additional beds.
  • In New York, we have been working with the Greater New York Hospital Association (GNYHA) Surge Capacity Task Force. In March, New York State called for the creation of nearly 140,000 additional acute care and intensive care unit beds within 14 to 21 days. We’ve been helping to rapidly assess unused hospital-owned spaces, long-term care facilities, and alternative care sites, like hotels and commercial real estate, to increase hospital bed capacity by between 50 and 100 percent. We are also involved in a similar task force in New England.
  • In the Chicago area, our COVID-19 work includes converting existing buildings into alternative care facilities. One project will reactivate a former acute-care hospital to treat COVID-19 patients, and another will transform a former medical office building into a dedicated COVID-19 care facility.
  • In San Francisco, we assessed the viability of converting a hotel into a COVID-19 care facility.
  • Our Copenhagen, Boston, Miami, Chicago, and Dallas studios—among others—are designing and creating no-cost personal protective equipment (PPE) for our healthcare clients.

“Suddenly, healthcare interior design best practices are human health best practices, relevant for all building types, touching everything from space planning, materiality, and detailing to technology, engineering systems, and operations.”

– Carolyn BaRoss

IIDA: How has your firm’s best practices positioned your healthcare team for the important design work that they do, now and post-COVID-19?

We think holistically about resilience in our health facilities and design proactively for health and well-being while avoiding damage to the environment, public health and health policy, and the health of our communities. We aim to design effectively for circumstances like pandemics involving all kinds of illnesses, severe weather events, and acts of violence. As part of this, considerations for healthcare interiors include the following, some of which are already best practice:

  • Surge capacity flexibility and adaptability of current and new healthcare and non-healthcare facilities that are proximate to hospitals where staffing and logistical support can be made available.
  • Cleanability and ability to disinfect, including the use of UV lighting, easily-wipeable surfaces, and materials and detailing made to withstand rigorous cleaning protocols like vaporization.
  • Hands-free, touchless technologies and design solutions.
  • Understanding the causes of, and means of transmission of different illnesses, and the need to respond appropriately.
  • Balancing the natural environment within our built environment, and enabling our microbiome to help combat germs without inadvertently creating or worsening a problem.
  • Designing and allowing for caregiver respite and well-being: the stressors currently placed on our caregivers, and the dangers they face, urgently require intervention.
  • Configuration and airflow of arrival spaces in healthcare for prevention, screening, and triage in order to isolate and prevent germ transmission into other areas.
  • Storage capacity and emergency storage in preparation for disruptions in the supply chain.

IIDA: Taking this moment of crisis into consideration, what does the future for healthcare design hold once we are able to return to a feeling of normalcy?

CB: We have to strongly consider what this new, post-pandemic world will look like; how the economic fallout will impact the future of healthcare facilities; what the medical side effects for survivors will be; and what the future holds for affordable and accessible patient care.

One of the starkest lessons and opportunities that COVID-19 brings to light is that public health crises can systematically disadvantage essential workers, first responders, those with pre-existing conditions, and the economically disadvantaged in crowded living situations. The question is, how will we apply that lesson to enable adequate and equitable community prevention, testing, telemedicine, and care in the future? We’re all in this together, and we need to address it together.

IIDA: Do you foresee lessons from healthcare interiors impacting the design of other project types, such as workplace?

CB: Absolutely. One of the most compelling ways our practice has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic is the extent of which non-healthcare (namely: corporate interiors) clients are clamoring for healthcare-specific infection control strategies to ameliorate spaces ensuring building occupant safety. We are also applying healthcare infection control best-practices in other built environments. This is a very good thing, if the design solutions are effective, researched, and supported by scientific data.

IIDA: Reflecting on this moment in time and your experience in recent weeks, what is your big-picture perspective on how we can move forward, together?

CB: One of the silver linings is that the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed an intrinsic global community interconnectedness. Ultimately, helping and being part of the solution matters most—whether you’re a designer or not—from making masks to staying home, or caring for others. Truth is essential. For those of us who happen to specialize in designing interior healthcare environments, we know how valuable our technical knowledge and research is to people and markets outside our own, and we recognize how urgent unity is. Right now, competitors are working together rather than in opposition, researchers are investigating how we can do better as a global society,  And civic-mindedness has taken center stage above all else. Does this represent a turning point, a permanent shift toward collaboratively protecting our environment and public health? I hope so. It takes something like this to snap us out of our complacency and to remind us that the problem isn’t abstract anymore, or just a future model that may or may not happen. By working together, we can accomplish so much more.

In response to our rapidly changing world, IIDA brings you a design-focused dialogue on the effects of a global crisis. Join us for this important community discussion. Collective D(esign) Episode Five | Hospitality Design in a New Normal takes place on April 24, learn more about the series here.

Collective D(esign): Watch the First Webinar

In response to our rapidly changing world, IIDA brings you a design-focused dialogue on the effects of a global crisis. Watch the first webinar in the series now. 

As we all adjust to a strange new “normal” and prepare for our inevitable “what next,” the design industry has begun to grapple with the changing world and what it means for the future of the built environment. On March 26, a panel of design experts joined IIDA Executive Vice President and CEO Cheryl S. Durst, Hon. FIIDA, and a virtual audience of nearly 1000 design industry professionals, for an important community discussion on how their firms are adapting technology, adjusting expectations, supporting their employees, and overcoming unprecedented challenges. 

Watch the first webinar in the series: 

Moderator: 

Cheryl S. Durst, Hon. FIIDA
Executive Vice President and CEO
IIDA, Chicago 

Panelists: 

Gina Berndt, FIIDA ASID
Principal, Managing Director
Perkins+Will, Chicago 

Susan Chang, AIA
Partner
Shimoda Design, Los Angeles

Jordan Goldstein, IIDA, AIA
Principal & Global Director of Design
Gensler, Washington, D.C.

Tara Headley, Assoc. IIDA
Interior Designer
Hendrick, Atlanta

The next webinar in the series, Healthcare Designers at the Forefront, will take place on April 2, 2020, 1:30-2:30 p.m. Central. Register today. 

Join John Czarnecki, Hon. IIDA, deputy director and senior vice president of IIDA, and a group of design leaders in a discussion on the critical importance of adapting healthcare design in this historic global moment.