Think a few empty desks and Purell will be enough for an office return? Spoiler alert: It’s not

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With vaccination ramping up, companies are planning reopening dates. But don’t expect to be gathering around ye olde water cooler anytime soon.

While you’ve likely already heard of back-to-work trends like flexible days, hot-desking (multiple workers using a single workspace at different times) and temperature checks, there’s a lot more to come as many firms introduce changes to make the office safe and comfortable.

Welcome to the office 2.0.

Tent life

Steelcase has created stylish and versatile work tents as a mainstay for the workplace. The office-environment designer launched them to give an open-concept floor plan dedicated spaces, and they’ve proved to be a huge hit.
“Created by an outdoor-gear expert, the tents are a playful way to bring workers back to the office, borrowing form and function from nature,” said sociologist Tracy Brower, Ph.D., a principal at Steelcase.

Other offerings from the company include desktop pods that can move from desk to desk, a “boundary tent” to separate cubicles or serve as a Zoom background and options for “flex frame” walls that teams can arrange into their own configuration.

Under wraps

You might see a domed station in lieu of your former cube. One of the leaders in the space is MojoDesk, which has created an electric sit-to-stand desk that moves up and down with the press of a button. In addition, it also has a built-in, adjustable privacy dome. Not only is it ergonomically appealing it also features dimmable LED lights.

“MojoDome was originally designed to eliminate echo, decrease background noise and offer privacy to reduce distractions,” said Barry Carson, co-founder and president of MojoDesk and parent company Xybix, a top player in ergonomic workstations. “With the added benefit of a physical barrier for built-in social distancing, we anticipate these features will be extremely valuable to those in an open office.”

Take it outside
At New York-based Marx Realty, they believe that bringing a hotel-like aesthetic into offices can promote a sense of calm, making your 9-to-5 feel like a Zen escape. And perhaps nowhere is that more obvious than in outdoor workspaces, such as the Ivy Terrace (above) at their offices at 10 Grand Central in Midtown.

For Craig Deitelzweig, president and CEO of Marx Realty, it’s not just about one-off innovations, but updating the big picture in order to create a relaxing and safe experience for employees and guests.

“Tenants today increasingly demand outdoor space — it has always been a sought-after amenity and has become even more desirable in the age of COVID-19,” he said. “At 10 Grand Central, for example, we frequently see employees eating lunch outdoors, having coffee, working on their computers and engaging in group meetings. We even see lots of employees enjoying a socially distant al fresco glass of wine together.”

Real-time apps
RXR Realty’s $20 billion portfolio ranges from 75 Rockefeller Plaza to the Starrett-Lehigh Building in Chelsea, home to tenants like Ralph Lauren and Martha Stewart. They’ve launched the RxWell by RXR app in partnership with health experts and Microsoft, which monitors social distancing, mask compliance, building capacity and more. The app even tracks cleaning schedules, as it interacts in real time with tenants and visitors.

“Technology-enabled the extraordinary success of the world’s largest and most abrupt work-from-home experiment, but it will also enable the opportunity for workplace innovation,” said the company’s founder and CEO, Scott Rechler.

RxWell is available to all 900-plus tenant organizations and 70,000 employees across the RXR commercial portfolio.

Touchless tech
If you’ve been opening door handles with your sleeve for the past year (er, half your life?), you’re not alone, and there’s a whole slew of office designers looking to save you from coat-sleeve hell when it comes time to return to the office.

“Touchless solutions will become mainstream in the coming months, but also hold value in the long term because, in addition to being safer, these technologies are more efficient,” said Brad Sweet, commercial marketing leader at Allegion, a trailblazer in safety and security solutions.

Their automatic operators for doors, contactless readers for credential technologies and mobile credentials for contactless access are gaining traction in healthcare facilities, commercial offices, K-12 schools and higher-education campuses.

Light work
A type of ultraviolet light, UV-C radiation, is a known disinfectant, and that PhoneSoap UV-C gizmo you caved and bought at the onset of the pandemic is going to be in good company at your corporate digs.

“We’re seeing office spaces use UV-C sanitization tech in conference rooms, entryways and HVAC systems,” said Joe Heaney, an air-quality expert and president of Lotus Biosecurity. “As offices reopen, they’re doing so primarily to promote the type of in-person meeting and collaboration that is difficult to accomplish via Zoom, making conference rooms and meeting areas some of the most utilized spaces. UV-C sanitizing ‘robots’ are used before and after meetings on a five- to seven-minute cycle to ensure that the next group entering the space is in a completely sanitized room, with clean air and surfaces.”

Heaney is also seeing the implementation of “sterilockers” — cubbies that use hospital-grade UV-C light, originally designed to sanitize doctors’ white coats. “It wipes out any germs you or someone you are meeting may have inadvertently picked up, say, on the subway or in an elevator,” he said.

Lastly, Heaney said there’s an uptick in UV-C as a method of air purification that has been effectively used in the HVAC systems of hospitals and other high transmission-risk areas for decades. “The efficacy of these systems are up to 99.99 percent when designed properly,” he said.

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