WD Flex Recap – Creating a Safe and Healthy Work Environment

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Elise Shapiro
Elise Shapirohttps://www.workdesign.com
Elise Shapiro is a contributing editor. Little did she know that her first job, in the facilities department at Ralston Purina, while obtaining her M. Arch at Washington University, in St. Louis would foreshadow where her career would lead. She has always been a strong advocate for providing the best possible spaces for people to work – where aesthetics meet function and drive business success.

A recap of week 2 of WD Flex: Back to the Office featuring Jessica Cooper, Kim Pexton, Kevin Cahill, and John Campbell.

Our summer virtual event series, WD FLEX: Back to the Office is rolling along with some fascinating discussions. Our second week of events kicked off with a topic that is front and center as our industry ramps up the move people out of the house and back to their company’s facilities. Is your firm or are your clients having the same discussions as our panel?

The panel was moderated by Jessica Cooper, Chief Commercial Officer, International WELL Building Institute, (IWBI) and participants included Kim Pexton, Vice President, Sustainability, JBG Smith; Kevin Cahill, Principal, Interface Engineering; and John Campbell, Principal, Francis Cauffman.

Current data indicates that only about 20% of companies have their employees fully back in the office. As the discussions around how to define and design the offices that people will return to our panel explored approaches to effect smart, sustainable, and actionable solutions that can be implemented yet tailored to the specific needs of each unique situation.

The panel agreed on many of the options – with their varying backgrounds in design, engineering, and commercial real estate, all had a particular point of view with anecdotal information that may be helpful to those working on projects that are moving the dial on future office occupancy.

Our purpose at WDM is to share ideas and drive the discussions that help our readers meet the challenges of the day. Our panel did not disappoint, and some key takeaways were:

  • People want and need to feel comfortable to have the confidence to go back to their workplace.
  • Communicating the safety and sustainability measures taken to ensure safety, health and well need to be integrated into new design solutions.
  • Certifications are one way that can provide guidelines and standards to meet people’s expectations.
  • The design process has to change to be more inclusive of many stakeholders that previously may not have been included in design and planning. For example, HR will have higher visibility and input into design discussions. Listening to clients and understanding their needs fully, is critical to having a fully thought-out design plan.
  • Quick fixes are not going to work long term. (Goodbye plexiglass dividers)
  • A better approach is to have plans in place that can accommodate changing needs – for example building systems may need to be re-evaluated so that systems are smarter, can be programmed to meet needs as requirements change.
  • Access to outdoor workspace is going to be more prominent.
  • Flexible policies will consider what kind of work can be done at home and providing spaces at the office to meet changing needs for meetings as companies pivot to more hybrid postures.
  • We are learning more about how to design for neurodiverse populations.
  • The next 6-18 months will be a time of testing, evaluation, and experimentation as we move forward.
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