• COVID-19
  • Air Quality Monitoring
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Returning to the Non-Essential but Still Useful Office

Neil Strother
Jun 08, 2020

Smart Cities

No one knows for sure exactly how it will look and feel but returning to the office is going to be different thanks to the coronavirus outbreak, if one goes back at all.

The social distancing piece is only the beginning. The interior office space itself is being altered based on what building owners, managers, and tenants have come up with for managing assets to help keep people safe yet productive in this new environment.

Popularized by real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield (C&W), the 6 Feet Office concept has taken hold among stakeholders. The company has experimented with setting up beacons that can track the flow of people in its office building. According to Peter van Woerkum, chief operating officer for C&W in the Netherlands, this setup is likely to become the norm for many companies. “The feedback we’ve had so far has been that employees are really happy to be back in the office, and that there is some assurance that the company is taking care of their safety,” says van Woerkum.

Clearing the Air and Surfaces

The way office buildings handle air quality has taken on heightened emphasis in an effort to control the coronavirus outbreak. That means HVAC systems are likely to get an upgrade, or at least some new design thinking. For example, a smarter HVAC design could include ultraviolet C (UV-C) lamps within a mechanical, electrical, and plumbing duct system to kill microorganisms lurking in a building’s airflow. 

Another concept for safer offices is to integrate antimicrobial technology with interior surfaces or elements that people touch frequently, such as faucets, door hardware, or desks. This is more of a long-term solution and would add to costs significantly, but it could be valuable. However, the science is still emerging and there could be unforeseen health risks that appear at a later date.

Screening Before Entering

Human screening is anticipated to become more common when entering offices. Expect companies to widely deploy thermographic cameras in lobbies. These cameras use infrared light to detect elevated skin temperatures. If an above-normal temperature is detected, additional steps are likely to be needed to verify if someone is ill, since the technology is not infallible. To make sure the person is a risk, getting a temperature reading with a traditional thermometer or requiring a COVID-19 test would be the next step.

Not every office is expected to be outfitted with these technologies, but some will and people must adjust. This change is already seen as people wait in line to enter Home Depot, or as they wear a facial mask at the grocery store and move aside when they pass someone along a sidewalk or a park pathway. Offices are more contained spaces, of course, but humans are adaptable. Welcome to the new office, with a 6-foot dance involved. For an in-depth view of other smart building technologies expected to flourish in years following the pandemic, see Guidehouse Insights’ Intelligent Buildings Overview report.