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How to design an office that employees will want to return to

Daniel Meigs
New normal.
Anne Quito
By Anne Quito

Design and architecture reporter

To reopen an office during a pandemic, companies must contend with a two-fold challenge: Making facilities safe for occupancy, and convincing employees that it actually is.

Solving for these physical and psychological hurdles has kept architects, engineers and designers busy over the last few months. With US regulatory boards making it easier for new products to reach the market during the coronavirus emergency, a slew of solutions—from zany to ingenious—have become available. But seven months into the pandemic, as more companies contend with what office life means now, experts argue that the clunky, half-baked prototypes from months ago will no longer suffice. Design solutions must not only effectively contain the spread of the virus, but also make going back to work a pleasant, even beautiful experience.

“The next wave will be about getting employees interested in coming back to the office,” says Sam Dunn, CEO and co-founder of Robin, a startup that recently launched a suite of digital tools for reopening work sites. He stresses that good design can help make things feel less clinical or chaotic. “Going to work right now feels like going through airport security. What you want is the excitement of booking the trip,” he says. “For many, the office is an opt-in and companies have to start treating it like employees are going on a day trip.”

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