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Adapting to a Transformed Work Environment

In the midst of the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic Fitzemeyer & Tocci reached out to institutional and facility consulting leaders in the Healthcare, Academic, and Science & Technology sectors to learn about how they were adapting to a transformed work environment and to talk about their perspectives on the future. Interviewees were asked about their priorities, what was going well and what their primary challenges were, what trends or driving forces will have the largest impacts, as well as other perspectives on the future. We have summarized responses below.

Many of the interviewees are involved in healthcare, academic, or science and technology design or operations, and have drawn on their various backgrounds as owners, designers, consultants, and specialists to advise institutions on both temporary and permanent design interventions. Some are coping with additional transitions beyond the pandemic or putting themselves at risk in the course of their jobs. Most are energetically addressing rapidly changing circumstances with a ‘can-do’ attitude. A principal takeaway is the likelihood of renewed attention to health measures and emergency response protocols. Several interviewees observed that collection and analysis of health data is likely to provide direction for future work in healthcare.

Responses regarding institutional priorities were largely logistical, given the ongoing adaptation to evolving circumstances. The variety of answers reflected the diversity of the interviewees, however all are facing common issues, particularly regarding continuity of business operations.

Asked what is going well, responses were quite heartening in tone, indicating an optimism about responding successfully to the challenges ahead. Rising to the challenge of facing the pandemic may even have brought employees closer together. However it is fair to say that the Covid-19 pandemic changed our collective lives more completely than any other single factor in recent memory. Responses to a question about challenges are like snapshots of how people were coping and adapting while there was no end in sight. Stress was up, and training new employees had to be done remotely. Planning in the midst of uncertainty was an enormous challenge. Given that social connection among employees in healthcare settings has been a traditional form of stress formation and community-building, how could this take place while maintaining social distance?

The significant dimension regarding responses when asked about influential driving forces is the hopeful tone, expressing optimism about certain implications of a world transformed by Covid-19. However recognition that planned capital projects may not restart immediately post-pandemic caused some concern. Telehealth/telemedicine and remote work topped the list of permanent trends. Being ‘remote’ and effective comes right behind technology in terms of helpful trends. We may someday look back at the pandemic as a tipping point in these areas. Regarding negative trends, there is an even mix of hard reality and speculative concern in these responses, some of which (like political changes and climate change) have no direct relationship to the pandemic.

Final thoughts included several responses addressing climate change generally rather than the specifics of the pandemic, while many others included observations we would be wise to remember after the immediate emergency has passed. The likelihood that occupant health will become a new standard of building performance in the wake of the pandemic seems very high. Remote work and the technology that allows this will diversify our work patterns and lifestyle options. Perhaps a new understanding of interpersonal dynamics within the workplace will also evolve from our experiences during this time.

A special thank you to those interviewed for their time and insight.

Written by: Vernon Woodworth, FAIA

Life Safety & Code Consulting Service Leader


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