Guest Post by Nathan Lentz, DPR Construction Special Services Group leader

When DPR Construction and its partners at IA Interior Architects, JLL, Savills and STG Design first started discussing the Next Generation of Office Space, we were particularly interested in how new trends would affect design and construction. Much of the existing narrative focused solely on occupant experience. With our discussions capturing trends from across the project delivery chain, we knew that creating those occupant experiences takes a lot of expertise.

One theme that emerged is that the pandemic may have created healthy design and construction table stakes. There was already considerable momentum for healthy spaces before COVID-19. The pandemic made people think about the spaces they live and work in more closely. Even once the pandemic fully fades, it is likely people will want to work in places that take measures to help keep them healthy.

Essentially, a lot of the recommended best practices that populated wellness certification systems – natural ventilation, MERV filters, a variety of workspaces that enable people to spread out and work in a spot where they work best – will become a norm in office design.

DPR Reston office with touchless restroom fixtures. Credit: Judy Davis, Hoachlander Davis Photography

Outdoor spaces will likely be a more frequent feature, but how they are designed and constructed may change significantly. In the past, these areas were treated as amenities. If they are considered part of the workspace, they may become more robust in terms of design, materials and what it takes to build them.

When it comes to flexibility, incorporating moveable walls – to create smaller spaces or to bring the outside in – could be considerations. That will affect not only the design occupants see, but also the systems that make an office work, such as MEP and HVAC.

These elements, though, are all outcomes. One of the biggest takeaways from our discussions was that collaborative delivery methods are key to this evolution. The individual needs of a building owner or tenant will mean cookie-cutter approaches won’t work. Add in the challenges of materials procurement, labor availability and more and getting the entire team aligned to start with is vital.

In other words, it’s a great time to consider design-build and integrated project delivery (IPD) to bring voices to the table from the start. This will not only help identify issues before they emerge in the field, but also help ensure the final product is in alignment with the individual cultures of workplaces.

It’s not enough to simply think about what post-pandemic workplaces will look like. It takes looking at individual office and company cultures, what it takes to make people feel and be healthy in those spaces while incorporating traditional thinking about collaboration, productivity and more, and combining it all with a cohesive design and construction approach that makes it all a reality.

We all hope the pandemic will soon be gone. What’s for sure is that it will not be forgotten. With the clarity of hindsight, we see our offices were not prepared for this sort of disruption. While it is encouraging that the past year has shown the productivity workers can have while working remotely, the bulk of people we’ve spoken to want to return to – and even miss – the office. Working together to have clear conversations about what “the office” will look like and how to make it healthy and resilient will help us do as much as possible to head off the next disruption, whatever form it takes.

Nathan Lentz is DPR Construction Special Services Group leader