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The post-COVID workplace
South Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Media, Architecture
Rachael McCarthy
Date Published: 
Interior Design, Post-COVID Workplace, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, Collaboration, Natural Light, Daylighting, Health, Sustainable Design, Commercial Office Buildings, Architecture
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2021-03-31 22:16:09
2021-03-31 22:24:54
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Peter Clarke
Looking ahead, how will the world of work be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic? And how will this change the way we design workplaces and commercial buildings?

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the loss of more than a million lives globally, shifted the white-collar world to remote working and students to remote learning, and triggered the worst peacetime recession in 100 years.

History reveals that societal crises have the power to instigate major changes. World War II drew women into the workforce out of necessity. After the war, the shift persisted, accelerating women’s participation in the workforce. The 9/11 terrorist attacks reshaped attitudes to surveillance and personal privacy and during the 2003 SARS outbreak in China, people were afraid to leave the house, triggering a rise in e-commerce that paved the way for digital giants such as Alibaba.

Architecture has been similarly impacted. Material shortages during World War II drove innovation in building technology, advancing the modernist movement as cities were rebuilt in the aftermath. Perhaps more pertinent, modernist architecture can also be understood as a consequence of the fear of disease. Tuberculosis was one of the most pressing health concerns of the early twentieth century. Dark rooms and dusty corners where bacteria lurk were replaced with expansive windows and terraces. Finnish architect Alvar Aalto described the purpose of his Paimio Sanatorium “to function as a medical instrument.”

While we cannot be certain what the future holds, here we re-imagine a future five years on that has been positively impacted by the disruption of COVID-19.

Healthy and Sustainable

Over the course of 2020’s prolonged restrictions, mental health declined significantly. Only 45 percent of people described their mindset as positive and only 32 percent felt their ability to separate life and work was as effective while working remotely, compared to before the pandemic.

Wellbeing conversations are now on the table and wellbeing has become a measure of organizational performance. Indeed, organizations that prioritize their people have fared best through the COVID-19 pandemic. They have attracted and retained the best talent and are achieving competitive advantage from the creativity, empathy and problem-solving ability of their future-ready workforce.

Designers have adopted the World Health Organization’s Manifesto for a healthy and green recovery from COVID-19, launched during the peak of the pandemic.5 Design has responded by meaningfully integrating initiatives that will benefit the physical, cognitive, emotional and social wellbeing of the workforce, together with environmentally sustainable design initiatives.

New policies now mandate minimum wellbeing standards and building owners and organizations are incentivized to reach exemplar standards, which as a preventive health measure, will offset substantial costs to the community to treat the unwell.

Outdoor and naturally ventilated spaces have become the norm. Sophis-ticated building systems enable flexibility to switch between maximum fresh air to minimum fresh air (when pollution levels are high, such as during the bushfires) to provide the healthiest mechanically ventilated indoor spaces. Significant areas of planting are now mandated for each building to improve biodiversity and air quality in our cities – green roofs, terraces, pocket parks and indoor biophilia will be prevalent – greening our buildings and our cities. Slender floorplates prevail as C-grade space (deeper than 12 metres from perimeter glazing) is eradicated, giving occupants optimal access to natural light and connection to views and changing light as the day unfolds.


The loneliness epidemic that impacted a devastatingly high number of people pre-COVID-19 ballooned out of proportion during the social isolation of the pandemic.7 While working remotely, only 30 percent of people felt as well connected to their colleagues by late 2020 as they did before the pandemic – a 19 percent reduction since the initial pivot to remote working in early 2020.8 With our brains wired for social connection, scientific studies show the importance of workplaces (on both a tenancy and building scale) to connect people and form communities, as well as the productivity benefits of happy workers (+12 percent increase in productivity).9 Leveraging Denmark’s enviable top position in a global workforce happiness index, the Danish model of a fixed lunchtime has been adopted.10 Organizations p

Organizations Mentioned: (2)
Bates Smart
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
WHO | World Health Organization
Geneva, Switzerland
Non-profit, Health