Epidemic and illness have long influenced the design of our built environment, from the success of environmental TB treatment, shaping the use of glass / natural light in early 20th century architecture, to the traditional use of brass Ironmongery in healthcare facilities due to its inherently antibacterial properties aiding infection control, but what will be the legacy of the current Corona Virus outbreak?

Reaching 7 plus weeks of living in socially distanced isolation, with shut shops & pubs and empty high streets across the country, and the kitchen table often being the new office, it’s hard not to think about what lasting impact the Covid-19 will have on our built environment. Will homes need to adapt to accommodate the workplace? Will we no longer want to live so closely together, working together in open plan offices, will pedestrian routes, pavements, lobbies, lifts and stairs need to widen to accommodate social distancing.

The success of social distancing has been based on emotional response to the plea to stay home and save loved ones and the NHS, and the journey back to “normal” may also be an emotional one. One of the areas of greatest impact undoubtably has and will be in the workplace; having diligently heeded the need to work from home where possible, it will now take a similarly huge mindset shift to make employees feel confident and safe to occupy shared work spaces again.

Across the last 10+ years, post the financial crisis, offices have been occupied at increasing density, with a focus on collaborative working, bringing people together, breaking down barriers between teams, shared spaces, reducing division and separation of space, focusing on spatial design to promote interaction. However, these principles are in direct contradiction to the principles of social distancing that we now understand as our responsibility to keep us and others safe.

I would propose the impact on the work place of the current pandemic will be in two clear phases; “re-integration” and “re-form” building and taking time to return to a semblance of a “new normal”. Initially, with a focus on re-integration, getting businesses and our economy back up and running, the current workplace will see measure brought in to tailor workspace to aid social distancing; such as reduced overall occupancy, stated occupancy to all rooms, marked circulation routes, with floor stickers, designated desks to separate space, or plexiglass screens creating physical separation.