Clapham-Carter says that touch free operation, including toilet seats that lift automatically as you approach, followed by a close and flush as you walk away, will be increasingly popular in the post-lockdown workplace. Not all solutions need to be expensive. Basic steps like wall-mounted toilets and easy-to-remove seats can make cleaning washrooms more thorough and secure.
“The poll shows the importance of spaces that are more comfortable, and that staff are happy to use because there are cases where people have such concern that they limit their food and drink intake during the working days, which is so unhealthy,” she says. Washrooms also have a social function. They are a place to retreat to, or emerge from, in the course of our stressful working-day. This “’dressing room’ function becomes more important in the no-where-to-hide expanses of open plan offices. “There have always been people who retreat to the washroom to escape, if things get a bit stressful,” Clapham-Carter says. “And, of course, some people call them restrooms. These are places that provide a huge opportunity for businesses to show how they care for their staff and visitors. A bad impression can damage the business, but a good washroom will do their reputation a world of good.” Clapham-Carter suggests that this is yet another reason to create environments that feel secure both in the sense of being private, and being hygienic.
Yet behind the debate about workplace habits, and levels of risk, lies a tougher question: is a hygiene-led workplace even possible, and if it is, how will we recognise it? Dexter Moren is convinced that the obstacles will be overcome. “People want to come to the office because they want a social life and they want the chance encounters,” he says. This will spur designers who have already taken large steps towards the ‘hotelisation’ of the workspace. This means a more relaxed and social environment, with space to move and think and enjoy a coffee. It means that a less proximate, more socially-distanced workplace need not feel like an artificial environment. Fruitful micro-encounters can still take place, only this time safely.
Chiara Amati agrees and says ‘hotelisation’ will have a role in the creation of hygiene-led workplaces. She says we’ll know when designers have got it right because we won’t be adware that anything has changed. “We’ll know hygiene-led design is working if we don’t notice - it should be imperceptible,” Amati says. “If we go into the office, chat and work and connect and innovate, then come home and don’t think about the hygiene, then it has worked.” Lynne Chapman-Carter agrees enthusiastically that invisibility is the key to successful hygiene-led design. “The technology is there, and available, but you don’t see it, it just happens, and you go home having had a positive experience during your day in the office,” she says.
It sounds nice and also, after twelve months working from home, a little unfamiliar. As the UK economy unlocks this spring, we’ll discover how far workplaces have cracked the problem of hygiene-led workspace, and how much further they have to go.