Fewer desks, more tech, post-Covid 19

HOW our offices look is set for substantial transformation post-Covid, with desk “ownership” potentially consigned to history and interior fit-outs increasingly focused on anti-microbial fabrics and easily cleanable surfaces.

So says Fionuala Lennon, Interior Design Principle with Wilson Architecture, a Cork-headquartered firm who recently took the gong for Building of the Year for Penrose Dock, a John Cleary Development (JCD) office scheme in Cork city, at the Building and Architecture of the Year Awards 2021.

Fionuala Lennon, Interior Design Principle with Wilson Architecture

Hot on the heels of this success, the firm has announced the expansion of its in-house Interior Design Studio, headed by Ms Lennon, who ran her own interior design business for 20 years before starting work with Wilson Architecture during the pandemic.

She joins a team of four and they have completed a number of uber-hip fit-outs at Penrose Dock over the past year,  working remotely with clients in New York and Israel – including with Israeli tech firm Varonis, who requested that their eighth floor offices at Penrose Dock be as “uncorporate as possible”.

Varonis/ Penrose Dock

Varonis/ Penrose Dock
Varonis/ Penrose Dock
Varonis/ Penrose Dock

Speaking to the Irish Examiner about the challenges of workplace design in a post-Covid environment, Ms Lennon said a heightened awareness of personal and social hygiene will need to be accommodated.

“As designers we are starting to specify anti-microbial fabrics and surfaces that are easily cleaned.

“We are looking at circulation flow and custom designed directional signage to reduce contact, but it is the new policies and protocols that are put in place by management that will be critical to a safe work environment.” 

Among the biggest changes post-Covid she envisages is the proportion of desks to collaboration spaces.

“Now that we have discovered that employees can be productive working from home (WFH), many employers are considering expanding WFH programs to allow continued flexibility.

“A free address strategy where desks are not “owned” will be the new norm, thus accommodating the hybrid of remote and in-person work,” Ms Lennon said.

She also envisages more break-out spaces, collaboration areas and meeting rooms “with screens and technology required so that employees at home can be included”.

“When designing the workplace now, we design in flexibility, in a much more intentional way so that areas can be quickly modified to adapt to a task or work practice.” 

Rather than take a “wait-and-see” approach to workplace planning, Ms Lennon said Wilson Architecture is encouraging clients “to design a resilient plan that can adapt to whatever is next”.

Fit outs her team has worked at Penrose Dock include Grant Thornton, Sophos, Flexi Workspace, IBEC, Aspira and Dennehy’s Gym. They’ve also worked on the New Visa Office, Embassy of Ireland in Beijing.

Grant Thornton/ Penrose Dock

Grant Thornton/ Penrose Dock

Projects in the pipeline include hotel and bar renovations. Office fit-outs currently account for 70% of business, hospitality for 20%-30% and retail, such as show rooms, for 10%.

For more information visit www.wilsonarchitecture.ie.

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