It’s no secret that COVID has changed our lives. No matter how long social distancing, mask-wearing and hand sanitizer-use lasts, the impact of COVID will echo through our society for generations.
We’ve seen it in the boom of work from home norms, new efforts to embrace and integrate technology into our days, advancements in cybersecurity after an increase in cyber attacks and the push for upgraded health and safety standards in our own industry. But COVID has had an even bigger impact than this.
COVID will, and already has begun to change the physical shape of our cities. The designs of buildings and public spaces are already shifting to account for social distancing, handwashing, sanitization and changes in how we work and play. It’s just one of the lasting effects that this pandemic will have on our world.
There are three key ways that COVID has changed the way we live and work that will impact architecture and building layouts:
Open concept offices became popular in the early 19th century – surprisingly from an engineer who wanted to take an industrial and factory approach to office space design. Factory floors are often all open, so why not bring that concept to the office?
As tech companies became more popular and the push for communication, collaboration and connectivity began to rise, the idea of “open concept” almost became a selling point. It became synonymous to represent the modernity and forward-thinking approach of a company. Boasting an “open concept office” would usually go along with “free coffee” and “after-work social events” within a job description.
With open-concept workspaces you often work within close proximity to your coworkers. Computer monitors sit back to back and neighbours could be within arms reach.
Social distancing could kill the open concept.
Because of COVID, physical barriers have become a part of our everyday lives. Plexiglass will separate you from a cashier or bank teller. Waitresses wear face shields to help prevent the spread of the virus. For some offices, the return to work is dependent on having doors to close and enough space to separate employees and keep everyone healthy.
We will see more walls, offices, cubicles and separate workspaces return to the office. Hallways will have to be built wider to allow social distancing and directional walking, as well. For contractors, this could be budgeting more drywall, additional electric outlets, doors, windows, and wall finishings. Budgeting and project planning will have to take these changes into consideration.
While shared kitchen spaces and lounge areas are great, COVID has made everyone more aware of sanitization standards. While hand sanitizing stations have begun to pop up in many places now, some downsides of constant use of sanitizer have now come to light.
For a business, it can be hard to keep them full and to pay for a constant flow of the product. Some studies have shown that consistent use of sanitizer can kill both good and bad bacteria within the body. In the long run, it can have a negative impact on the body’s immune system and ability to fight back against diseases. Many scientists have said that hand sanitizer should not be used as a replacement for handwashing.
Because of this, many new buildings could take this one step further and install handwashing stations the same way they build water fountains or bottle filling stations. On the construction side, this means access to water and a drain in more places than a washroom and kitchen. Something else to take into consideration when budgeting and planning a project.
This change is already being seen on construction sites themselves where actual hand-washing stations with running water are the new standard.
In the spring of 2020, the entire world pretty much hit pause. They say that about 63% of all Americans were working from home during COVID. In the future ⅓ of people could work from home in some capacity after the pandemic is over. In terms of architecture and building, this means the demand for more office spaces in residential buildings and co-op working spaces within cities.
Aside from these three points, there could also be big changes in the types of projects and the number of large scale projects that are out there to bid on.
Many people commute to large central cities to work. If people are able to do their jobs at home, then these large office buildings aren’t that needed. The number of private construction projects by big-name companies could drop drastically. For contractors who bid on these projects exclusively, it’s something to be aware of.
Another big change that happened during COVID was the rise of e-commerce, purchasing online and the impact that community shutdowns had on small businesses.
According to one study, 25% of small businesses in the US are at risk of closing between April and September of 2020. Ecommerce spend grew by 63% during the pandemic shutdown and numbers seem to be staying steady at this rate. New businesses may not need a brick-and-mortar store to run and be successful in the post-COVID world.
Commercial builds in the future could be more warehouses and storage plants than stores and shopping malls. If the way people shop, work and live are changing this much to be online and at home-focused, our buildings must follow.
For contractors who specialize in office and commercial properties, it may be time to start researching a new niche. Whether it’s focusing on large buildings, adding residential to your industry, or pairing with a firm to offer revitalization and repurposing of old office space into something new, the way buildings look in the future could be very different from today.
Either way, it’s clear that the impact of COVID on us, our lives and our buildings will continue far into the future.