Speaking at the TED conference last month, Brenner reports that several manufacturers have been ramping up production of far UV light products and anticipates that they’ll be more available and affordable in the near term. (A far UV lighting fixture sold by Healthé retails for $1,600 and a sanitizing entry portal costs $22,500.)

Far UVC bulbs in airports
Far-UVC bulbs in airports.
Image for article titled How to design an office that employees will want to return to

The human touch

Beyond rearranging furniture and installing tech gizmos, feeling cared for by other humans may still be the most effective intervention.

For instance, seeing cleaning crews during office hours can bolster confidence, suggests Shah. “We all know that nighttime cleanings are great, but I think operational teams have begun doing daytime cleanings because of the psychology associated with that.” He explains that the pandemic has cast a spotlight on building staff who do their work behind the scenes. “The building owners, management, and facilities staff have a much more important part of the workforce ecosystem. You may have been friendly with the security guard or the services team, but they were largely invisible for many employees.”

Virus Outbreak Missouri Legislature
Daytime cleaning in the Missouri Legislature.
Image: AP/Jeff Roberson

Bailey, the partner at Hastings, says that having a nurse administer daily health screenings has been a game changer. “It has really inspired a lot of confidence in our staff and calmed everyone’s fears and worries” he tells Quartz. “We’ve had a couple of people who have shown up with a fever that hasn’t been Covid, but they went home and didn’t come into this space.”

Enforcing a mask-wearing policy helps too. “Because my building is quite strict about the mask-wearing and cleaning policy, I feel pretty comfortable going back to the office,” attests Irinn Vinaiphat, an art director in Bangkok who works in a high-rise corporate tower. “I always wear a mask when I’m in a public space and I avoid crowded places like the cafeteria.” Vinaiphat says that it’s heartening to see how relentlessly building management is enforcing safety protocols. “Doors from the parking garage are opened only on three floors so that everyone coming in gets their temperature checked,” she says. Employees then get a different colored sticker each day as a building pass.

People wearing face masks walk at the Galaxy SOHO office and commercial buildings, following the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Beijing
Mandatory masks
Image: Reuters/Tingshu Wang

Ultimately, getting employees to feel safe is as much about good management as it is about good design. “The most important thing I found was the weekly updates from our CEO Nora Fehlbaum,” said Gielgen, Vitra’s trend scout. “She spoke to us every Monday through our online portal. This gave us all a sense of purpose and a feeling of care,” he says. Gielgen adds that Vitra’s recently-formed coronavirus task force crew has also been offering information that helps staff acclimate back to the office. “After thirteen weeks at home, I was back at the Vitra Campus. I realized how much I missed the culture and experience of being there.”

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