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COVID-19 and Working Outside: Are Your Facilities Ready?


By Dan Hounsell Grounds Management
A young woman in protective medical mask working with laptop outdoors

COVID-19 has changed nearly everything in institutional and commercial buildings. Managers have retrofitted entryways to enable screening of occupants. They have revamped restrooms to minimize touchpoints and improve hygiene. And they have revisited and improved air filtration and air filter checks to control the airborne movement of the coronavirus.

But the impact of COVID-19 on facilities does not stop at a building’s edge. Managers who might have given scant consideration to the way occupants interact with grounds and landscapes are taking a much closer look at these areas as possible workspaces for organizations seeking to socially distance workers.

Workplace designers routinely include biophilic elements because research shows having a connection with nature is beneficial to productivity and wellness. So encouraging employees to venture outdoors for part of the work day is a logical next step, and the idea is catching on. The outdoor office trend is expected to dominate the commercial design conversation in 2020 as more furniture options come to market and employers carve out workspace outdoors, according to Corporate Property Executive.

“An effective workplace is critical, but it’s no longer enough,” says Todd Heiser, managing director & principal of Gensler Chicago. “Employees want, and expect, an excellent experience at work, which means spaces with high levels of choice, variety and balance. Adding an outdoor element is another step in the evolution of choice and it is with this philosophy that we approached the NeoCon Plaza.”

Furniture manufacturers are getting ready now to roll out a new crop of outdoor product choices.

“Great employee experiences can be enhanced by bringing people together in inspiring places,” says Allan Smith, vice president of global marketing with furniture manufacturer Steelcase. “Outdoor spaces enhance well-being, support hospitality and expand the workplace ecosystem for creative collaboration.”

“Outside is the new in,” says John Scott, senior workplace design strategist at Haworth, a furniture manufacturer. “In order to creatively develop solutions and reduce the stress in our work lives—go outside.”

Dan Hounsell is editor of Facility Maintenance Decisions.

 

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