Open spaces, open places and co-working
For many years the open space was the ultimate ambition for the organisation of work spaces, to promote collaboration, the circulation of ideas, and to streamline costs. In addition to open spaces – areas strictly dedicated to work – open places then gained popularity, actual common areas dedicated to socialising in the workplace. The concept of open work places also enjoyed a new lease of life with the appearance of co-working, based on sharing not only workstations but also office services.
Common work spaces: what is the outlook?
In light of social distancing one wonders what will happen to these work spaces and habits. The editors of Fortune tell us that the Coronavirus did not put a stop to co-working and, actually, added further shared services for remote working to the precautions regarding the use of spaces. Cowo, the largest independent co-working network, has published a Guide on the safe management of co-working, focusing on hygiene-health measures, but also on communication and community building approaches. In any case it would seem that radical scenarios of totally replacing office work with remote working can be ruled out.
Re-designing spaces and comfort
There is no doubt that many offices will need to be upgraded for the sake of biological safety, local/remote work balance, flexibility.
One of the first aspects to consider is modularity: offices will in fact need to be easily adaptable based on the number of people present and the distancing regulations. One of the second aspects refers to size: large open spaces will preferably become spaces and rooms for 4-5 people, more suitable for preventing the spread of the virus. A third aspect concerns rules on using common spaces (conference theatres, meeting rooms, canteens, social spaces): one mainly expects the implementation of new rules of conduct.
Lastly, the approach and strategies on ventilation and indoor comfort must be revisited.
Office comfort zones and ventilation
The new philosophy of office design must be strongly inspired by a concept of comfort zones whereby biological safety is the priority.
It is obvious that natural ventilation (i.e. opening windows) is not enough, because this is almost never done for the amount of time required to guarantee suitable air renewal. Also, rooms such as bedrooms, bathrooms or kitchens have different air renewal needs, while rooms with a large concentration and frequency of people require larger volumes of air to be renewed more often. Plus, air coming in from outside can be polluted.
To fulfil the diverse needs, controlled mechanical ventilation with disinfection comes into play. CMV is, in itself, a forced ventilation system, highly efficient, as it lets stale air out and replaces it with fresh air, without mixing, guaranteeing indoor air renewal even with closed windows.
CMV is even more beneficial when it is combined with disinfection technologies that add to minimising heat loss also the removal of sources of pollution from the air, including bacteria and – partly – viruses.
An example is RHINOCOMFORT, the single-room solution that combines the advantages of mechanical ventilation with heat recovery, with the benefits of air disinfection through the principle of photocatalysis, which breaks down the molecules of polluting substances, reducing them into healthy water particles.
Faced with a scenario where, for some companies, “full remote working” is either not feasible or not very efficient, suitable air quality management, combined with the distancing rules, will be crucial in re-arranging the workspaces.