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Architect Janáč (YUAR): How to Design the Ideal Post-Covid Office

Article March 29, 2021

Article

People need to meet at offices. And companies should offer them an attractive, high-quality office environment. That’s how architect Lukáš Janáč from YUAR Architects sees the situation.

“Recently offices have been seeing a quarter or a fifth of their usual occupancy. But many people who have to work from home are looking forward to returning,” notes Lukáš Janáč in his interview for #MORETHANOFFICE.

His studio YUAR Architects specializes in offices and corporate design and has recently created new work spaces for such companies as Productboard and Wrike. Janáč also has several awards from competitions like Office of the Year and Meeting Room of the Year to his credit.“We’re amid the storm; once it blows over, we’ll see what’s next,” he states.

What should an anti-Covid office look like to minimize the risk that someone will get infected at work?

Coronavirus will not ambush you from behind your desk; it’s not waiting at the coffeemaker. You can only catch Covid-19 from an infected person, while failing to respect safety measures. So it’s all about discipline, about understanding the rules.

But all the same, there are more and less suitable offices out there. In a nutshell, it’s all about employees having access to sufficient distancing, small and large meeting rooms with sufficient technical facilities for video conferences, their own laptops, and good proptech—sufficient air exchange and filtering, ozone-based cleaning, etc.

In your view, is Covid a temporary phenomenon, or will it be with us long-term, making it pay off to redesign offices based on it?

Viruses have been with us since the beginning of time, and now they’ve visibly staked their claim. And open-space offices are also connected with user criticism: a loss of privacy and a rise in noise—and illness in periods of viral infections. Now we’re seeing it more than usual, but I don’t mean to say that open space offices are a bad format. We’ll need to find a new balance.

And as for redesigning offices due to Covid-19? Not because of this illness itself. Face masks, respirators, disinfection, distancing, simply put all the well-known organizational measures. What does need addressing is the social and psychological aspect, where people currently can’t meet up despite wanting or needing to. This is the biggest challenge, and it’s the reason to start thinking again about the essence of offices, and about redesigning them, or potentially reconceiving them.

The interior of Productboard workplace designed by YUAR architects. 

ONE PERSON, MULTIPLE SEATS

What’s your recipe for an office that people are eager to return to?

It definitely has to be a space that’s attractive enough for employees themselves to want to return. If a company has people working from home one day a week, it saves 20% of its rented spaces. Now all of a sudden we’re talking about spaces’ quality instead of their quantity. A company can take the money it saves on rent and invest it into making people feel good and into creating a configuration that meets their needs and has them happy to work there.

Could you describe how your ideal office would look?

It’s an open space, so we all can see each other and keep tabs on who’s here and who’s not. There’s enough meeting rooms, and the spaces are sufficiently variable. There are 2 to 2.5 seats for each person, so that no desk strictly “belongs” to them. There’s further seating in the meeting room, the kitchen, and the relaxation room, so that there’s always somewhere to sit. That way it’s possible for 100% of your people to come in at any time.

We’d definitely care about materials—natural, recyclable, ideally both. And then good lighting, good acoustics. Basic functional technologies and a good view. In our experience we’re talking about overall costs for construction, furniture, and equipment of 22 to 27 thousand crowns per square meter in an office like this. Any extra money spent just raises the quality of the materials used.

New offices for MSD company located in Five office building, Prague-Smíchov.

NEW APARTMENTS WITH OFFICES

“Competition” for offices has appeared in recent times in the form of home offices. Aren’t the boundaries between our work spaces and “home spaces” blurred by this?

A company’s offices are its foundation, but home offices are visibly becoming a necessity. So it’s a matter of how apartments are handled, where for example a 2-room apartment with a kitchen corner should have the conditions needed for creating working spots in both rooms. Because having two video conferences in one room is unrealistic, people end up streaming from hallways, bathrooms, etc.... It’s neither professional nor comfortable, and it definitely negatively impacts performance.

What do company and home offices have in common?

Good working spots—a desk at least 80 cm deep with the right height; the best is to have a configurable height. Add to that a comfortable chair—ideally an office chair. And ideally in addition to a laptop, an extra monitor on an adjustable-height stand. Last but not least there’s the option of shielding out daylight, and using the right artificial lighting along with that. You can see there’s quite a lot.

The interior of MSD workplace was awarded at Meeting Room of the Year 2017 competition. 

LEVERAGING OUR NINE MONTHS

How have digitalization and modern technologies influenced your work on designing new offices?

Besides design and functionality, we at YUAR also focus on implementation costs. You see, we deliver a large part of our projects to clients in the form of Design & Project Management. We bear responsibility for the design, the process... and the price! We are able to risk providing this service solely thanks to our years of experience. Because of this, over the last few years we have developed spaceplanning.app, in which we can model a new project based on the data from our past implementations.

It is an app made for everyone who needs to know how much a project of a certain size can cost and how much time it will take. You tell it how large an office you need, and for how many people; you get a simple, clear timeline of what awaits you, you’re told the average price in the range of how much implementations have cost, and you also get a simple report for further presentations. We want to fundamentally shorten the order negotiation process, enabling us to utilize the nine months we typically have for preparing and producing spaces in the best and most efficient way possible.

The office of Parker company, another realization by YUAR architects.

No matter how offices come to change (due to Covid or technologies), what should we never be willing to give up? What should we give our heightened attention?

Speaking for YUAR, we recommend having a high-quality workplace analysis done—that is, getting an understanding of your firm’s internal processes, its needs, and its employees’ demands. And not forgetting to have a good space plan; that’s the foundation of a functioning space. When you wrap all that into a good design and correctly configure your building’s internal space, you get a great office.

GALLERY: Take a look at the office portfolio by YUAR architects