large hall overview with artistic decor hanging from ceiling and various seating options

Our Insights

The Future is Flexible

How workspace strategies are evolving through the pandemic | 2021 Insight Series - Commercial

Businesses are grappling with difficult decisions surrounding office space post-pandemic. Will working from home become the standard or is this just an anomaly? Can we design safe spaces that still encourage collaboration or will we sacrifice office socialization?

As part of our 2021 Insight Series, William Westhafer, Vice President hosts a roundtable discussion with integrated team members across Commercial, Residential and Retail sectors to identify the unique challenges and endless possibilities of designing workplace strategies that solve short-term problems and offer long-term resiliency.

How will office building design change in a post-pandemic world?

George Sorich, Principal

Healthy buildings lead to healthy people. With an emphasis on spending on employees over utilities, the investment into smart buildings is accelerating. Clients are focusing on healthy building certifications like WELL or Fitwel to keep workers safe and the investment is paying off in the long run.

Doug Lang, Vice President

We need to account for a continuum of public and private space in our design plans to keep everyone healthy. The virus has eroded the space between landlords and tenants, forcing designers to account for fixed attributes like elevators and fire exits more than ever before. Direct access from curbside to desk will attract a premium going forward and we need to consider flexible coworking spaces in locations such as shopping centers and lifestyle centers.

John Baird, Managing Director

Redefining spaces to make them more experiential, flexible and convenient will be critical to maintaining the positive work-life balance many of us have recently re-discovered. Integrating coworking spaces with retail, transportation that are more sympathetic to the natural environment offers a balanced solution to the increased flexibility in people’s lives. The simple but tangible addition of vibrancy, light, outlook and fresh air in one of our recent emerging designs shown below, is an example of a multi-use space that people will want to gather and work in that supports business and local communities in parallel, while giving flexibility to new types of business that might emerge with the shifting economic landscape.

Natural sunlight TOD project

How can we rework existing commercial space as employees return to the office?

Emon Lou, Principal

As the “free address” workspace model grows in popularity, so does the challenge of keeping it safe. Designers are leaning on technology, like sensors, for a no-touch experience to implement clean desk policies or monitor the building’s HVAC system. Designers need to account for that when repositioning an office space for work during and after a pandemic. NORR utilizes data-driven tools to help businesses develop a safe back-to-work playbook.

Pierina Benvenuto, Principal

There are relationships that you can build through technology, but we need to be together to create, build and sustain our workplace community. In the immediate future, we need to focus on redesigning gathering spaces to make them as safe as possible. The key right now is designing solutions to bridge the gap between remote workers and those still going into the office. There are great differences in workplace strategies that companies are contemplating, ranging from a transition from headquarters to hubs to repositioning existing space. There is no one solution for every business.

How are businesses using this pivotal moment to evaluate their culture?

Scott Catallo, Principal

This pause has presented companies with an opportunity to decide exactly what they want their culture to be, and that includes the design of their workspaces. Businesses are no longer bound by the space they operate in and that means we could see more hybrids between the office and remote locations. This is also a chance for companies to address real concerns about healthy buildings, smart offices and sustainability.

Why is NORR well-suited to take on these challenges?

Jan Steingahs, Principal

The cross-pollination between our different market sectors provides design solutions to future-proof our offices. We are learning from this pandemic. There are attributes from our Commercial, Residential and Health Sciences sectors we can transplant to design differently and focus on prevention rather than reaction in our workplace strategies.

Chris Pal, Vice President

From an engineering perspective, being able to work with multi-disciplinary teams ensures we can focus on the increased demand for health and safety measures in buildings, like fresh air flow and new HVAC systems. Our project experience across 14 different market sectors allows us to provide solutions to any design problem, and that includes adapting to a pandemic.

William Westhafer, Vice President

 Flexibility is key. Technology has allowed us to work together and sustain business, but collaboration in physical spaces is still a key to growth. Using our integrated design approach allows us to discover unique solutions for every client we work with.

There is the potential to rework existing spaces, but also room for new opportunities. We need to be wary of preconceived notions that there is a single design solution.  We are working with our clients to make difficult decisions in a post-pandemic world and take a measured approach to every design variable.