Interior Designers Are Helping Businesses Reimagine Their Workspace

Walled off: Glass or acrylic partitions in a workspace create a sense of separation that

covid-19 workspace
Walled off: Glass or acrylic partitions in a workspace create a sense of separation that makes people feel safer. // Photograph courtesy of MarxModa

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to push businesses to reimagine their workspaces into more hygienic, socially distant environments, interior design professionals are busy helping metro Detroit companies transform offices, community areas, and more for a new age of working.

Whitney Marx, 33, CEO of MarxModa, a Michigan-based interior design business headquartered in Detroit that creates workspaces for commercial, healthcare, and small-business clients, among others, first saw a need for COVID-19 workspace redesigns in February, with the demand intensifying in March and remaining steady since.

“Best practices continue to evolve, and we continue to design for flexibility in the workplace,” she says. “We expect new information almost daily, so design with the ability to adapt is critical.”

Marx and her team of interior designers partner closely with clients to change or adjust their spaces to help employees feel safe at work. “The first clients we helped were the essential businesses, especially healthcare-related clients and organizations looking to set up temporary COVID-care facilities very quickly,” she explains.

MarxModa formed a focus group early on that included clients, manufacturers, experts, and some of its team members to discuss challenges created by the pandemic and possible solutions that space planning and design could offer. Since then, they have worked with hundreds of clients to implement these strategies as people have returned to work.

“We’ve tried to be a resource to help our clients sift through the noise and understand things like new space allocation requirements and density danger zones in their office,” Marx says. Critical locations for COVID-19 safety consideration include common areas where people gather, lobbies, elevators, kitchens, restrooms, and print areas.

Updates to floor plans to meet distancing recommendations, such as furniture reconfigurations to move people farther apart or change their orientation, have been common changes. Other popular additions to workstation layouts are clear glass or acrylic boundary screens for physical separation and psychological support. Demand for furniture and accessories that can be easily cleaned has increased as well.

But “one design does not fit all,” says Marx, who says her team is working with clients to understand the number of employees who want access to spaces at the same time. Determining capacity limits, defining “safe spaces,” and tapping into technology to track space utilization have helped MarxModa create custom designs.

Solutions are modified as new data on how the virus spreads emerges. “There was a big push in March for higher screens, panels, room dividers — any form of physical boundary that could be installed immediately within workplaces to help prevent the spread of the virus,” Marx says. “More recently, research has shown that while these physical boundaries can create a sense of safety psychologically and serve as good reminders to maintain physical distance, they don’t actually block airborne particles.”

Physical distancing, wearing masks, and regularly sanitizing high-touch surfaces are more effective for containing virus spread, but Marx says psychological comfort is also crucial when it comes to helping employees feel safe at work — a key element of COVID-19 redesigns. “Most businesses are focusing on holistic changes that support both physical and psychological needs.”

Depending on changes, the sizes of spaces, and the number of designs implemented until the best one is reached, Marx says COVID-19 reconfigurations can start as low as $2,000 and go up to $20,000 or more. Once a client’s needs are determined, MarxModa will then obtain floor plans or go on-site to survey a space in person. From there, the process begins to shape new ways of working that could be the norm going forward.

“Right now, everyone, including our own team, is looking for the best ways to make their environments safe,” Marx says, “and we’re determined to help Michigan businesses do that.”

For more information on Marx Moda, visit marxmoda.com

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