Health-Care Centers and Universities Gear Up for COVID’s End
A recent Think Tank panel found design professionals who work in health care and academia sharing strategies on protection and productivity.
The workday of a hospital health–care worker or a university researcher is vastly different from that of a typical desk jockey. As COVID-19 has taught us, the latter can easily and effectively work from home. But health care and university research take place within patient corridors and laboratories. With the pandemic still raging, how do hospitals and universities both ensure the safety of these nontraditional workplaces and help workers achieve peak performance? Furthermore, what can these unique environments show us about the short- and long-term outlooks of the workplace post-pandemic?
“When we talk about health care and workplace, it’s not like an ordinary office,” said Gaurav Khadse, vice president of facilities portfolio management at the University of Texas Medical Branch, kicking off a recent Think Tank panel hosted by CannonDesign. While employee safety is paramount, doctors, nurses, and researchers can’t work from home. “The question,” says Khadse, “is how do we keep staff safe while caring for patients?”
Bill Cox, assistant director for facilities and dining administration at Texas A&M University, pointed out the singular challenges of a research environment. “You can’t just up and stop research on a university campus,” he said. “Typically, our custodians don’t even go into research labs. Millions of dollars can be at risk if someone touches something they’re not supposed to touch.” Their solution is to train researchers in appropriate sanitation protocols and provide them with cleaning supplies.
Virtually all workplaces have needed to adapt to our current moment, but there’s a real difference between temporary fixes and long-term changes, explained Khadse, who asked, “Is the pandemic a hundred-year event? You don’t want to sink a lot of money into something that’s not going to be an ongoing problem.”
As a facilities director, Cox said the adaptability of the built environment is key and urged those designing new buildings to build in extra capacity for vital systems such as ventilation in case of unforeseen changes. “If you can put the infrastructure in now when you’re building new, that’s the time to do it. It becomes so much more expensive later on.”
Swapna Sathyan, principal and director of workplace strategy consulting at Blue Cottage of CannonDesign, brought the panel’s conversation toward the big picture. “How do you design for a hybrid workforce?” she asked. “How do we design an environment people will want to come into?” The answer, she said, was “knowing how to operate in a virtual world. We talk about productivity in the COVID world and productivity in a virtual world. They’re two different things, because right now we can’t measure true productivity. We have parents who are sick, loved ones who are sick, people who are losing their jobs.”
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