University students looking for ways to create barriers around office workers
LET’S face it, the office is never going to be the same again.
Covid-19 has changed how offices are set up, and one thing is for certain – the open floor design that is so conducive for collaboration and interaction has to go.
Research done by UOW Malaysia KDU's undergraduates pursuing the Bachelor of Interior Architecture (Hons) found that masks and sanitisers may not be enough to protect office workers from the virus.
"The interior design of offices needs to change if we are to keep the Covid-19 curve flat," said UOW Malaysia KDU's Department of Built Environment lecturer Vanessa Sebastian.
Vanessa said interior architecture students at UOW Malaysia KDU recently conducted a behavioural analysis of people in several offices.
"They sat down and observed how workers navigate about in offices.
"Like anywhere else, people at the office will also have a pattern of movement," she explained.
What was clear from the analysis, she said, was that avoiding the 3Cs – Crowds, Confined Spaces and Close Conversations – was not easy to implement in open floor offices.
But it was going to be difficult to return to the old method of cubicles to keep everyone at the office separated.
"Offices started from being more like a factory floor. Then came the cubicles and then back to the open floor.
"Tall cubicles became popular starting from the 1960s, but open floors made a comeback because it is easier to bounce ideas off each other when we can all see each other.
"Depending on the kind of work we do, being isolated within our own cubicles may not be so efficient," Vanessa said.
To ensure physical distancing without taking up too much space, her students have been looking for ways to create barriers around office workers while preserving the openness that fosters interaction and collaboration.
"Partitions will be necessary now, but we can use acrylic barriers instead.
"Rather than setting up the usual partitions, our students brainstormed and designed wooden canopies over office workstations with acrylic shields around the sides.
"On top of being functional in the new normal, the furniture and equipment need to be aesthetically pleasing too," she said.
Students pursuing the Bachelor of Interior Architecture (Hons) in UOW Malaysia KDU are required to research built environments and produce solutions to problems during their three-and-a-half year programme.
Vanessa said teams of her students were now spending time in markets, restaurants and even healthcare centres to analyse the behaviours and movements of people there and work out new designs, layouts and even furniture that can help stop any pandemic from spreading through normal human interactions.
She said her students are also researching technologies like sensors, smart switches and the Internet-of-things.
"Light switches and buttons will be a thing of the past. We can already use our phones to operate things like the television and air-conditioner.
"To reduce physical contact between people at the office, more use of sensors and smart phones will likely be adopted," she said.
For details on the Bachelor of Interior Architecture (Hons), visit https://www.uowmkdu.edu.my/programme/ba-hons-in-interior-architecture/. You may also contact the Department of Built Environment at 04-238 6368 or 04-238 6326.