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Post COVID-19 Pandemic

Workspace Design Strategy

Sofia Ozambela, Sarah Golder, Karen Joyce, Lauren Cheetham, Nooshin Amadi

  • Our team worked with a large NYC-based international engineering office to help them with their future office design given the challenges presented by covid-19.

  • We interviewed staff and developed a flexible programming solution to address the issues and support multi-modal work for hybrid staff. 

  • We presented our programming solution to the two key stakeholders who helped coordinate the project. All stakeholders responded that the solution resonated with their goals for the space and effectively addressed the primary concerns of staff.

  • This case study was developed in the Problem Seeking through Programming course at Cornell University, and was selected as the best solution by the Company.

  • This case study was selected for the Environmental Design Research Association Conference (2024). 

Case Study Summary

Process

  1. Understanding organizational & site context

  2. Defining our programming approaches

  3. Analyzing the existing state

  4. Literature review and precedents research

  5. Summarizing key findings & issues

  6. Recommendations: problem, mission, goals, PRs, concepts

Approaches Used

  • User Profiles Approach

  • User Participation Approach

  • Social Functions Approach

Key Issues we identified:

  • Flexibility (Static “one-size-fits-all” office design limiting flexibility)

  • Interaction (Inadequate spaces for formal and informal collaboration)

  • Privacy (Limited options for group and individual privacy)

  • Psychological Wellbeing (Lack of consistency, reliability & sense of ownership)

Issue 1: Flexibility

The current office utilizes a static “one-size-fits-all” design, which limits flexible use of the space. It is dominated primarily by open plan desks and a handful of formal conference rooms.

Solution 1


Implement Activity Based Working to increase autonomy, productivity, and engagement by introducing adaptable space typologies to support varying tasks and work modes. 

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Performance Requirement 1:
Replace open plan individual desks with 4-6 “mixed-use” neighborhoods placed in 2 parallel rows on each floor.

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Performance Requirement 2:

Include 3 zones within neighborhoods:

• 4-16 individual desks for heads-down work

• 1-2 semi-private hybrid collaboration hubs

• 1 flexible open space

Issue 2: Interaction

The current office provides inadequate space for formal and informal collaboration. Employees voiced this as a top priority in both surveys and interviews.

Solution 1

Enable remote and in-person employees to collaborate seamlessly.

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Performance Requirement 1:

Equip semi-private collaboration hubs with 2-4 monitors that can be easily angled to face an individual or the larger group.

Solution 2

Foster informal collaboration and community-building in appropriate spaces.

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Performance Requirement 1:

Incorporate easily moveable furniture and whiteboards into open flexible space of neighborhoods to support impromptu brainstorming.

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Performance Requirement 2:

Increase the size of communal areas such as kitchens and other indoor non working areas to foster serendipitous interactions and networking opportunities.

Issue 3: Privacy

The current office provides limited options for group and individual privacy. Control over noise and distractions is seen as a key reason for working from home.

Solution 1

Increase accessibility to distraction-free private spaces for both individuals and groups.

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Performance Requirement 1:

Add bookable enclosed offices along windows on each floor, which can accommodate between 1-3 persons.

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Performance Requirement 2:

Apply acoustic paneling such that enclosed offices have sound levels <35 db when empty, and neighborhoods have sound levels <40 db when empty.

Issue 4: Psychological Wellbeing

The current office does not offer consistency, restorative spaces, or a sense of ownership and control.

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Solution 1

Foster opportunities for restorative breaks.

Solution 2

Create opportunities for personalization and sense of control.

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Findings From Literature

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Performance Requirement 1:

Plant at least 450 square feet of green space on the terrace ensuring visibility through terrace-facing windows.

Performance Requirement 1:

Provide shared pin-up spaces, moveable furniture, and desk personalization opportunities in neighborhood spaces.

Limitations

  • Case study of knowledge workers

  • Review of literature was not systematic 

  • Company policy about WFH changed between time of survey responses and when interviews were conducted

  • Only one site visit where we couldn’t converse with many employees

Implications

  • Companies with partially remote staff should consider reducing individual desking in favor of collaboration space

  • We will need to find creative ways to balance interpersonal interaction with privacy needs

  • Fostering a sense of control in the workplace is more important than ever now an increasing number of employees have the option to work from home

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