Gensler and Haven Diagnostics team up to solve challenges previously unrecognized in the workplace.
The Gensler Research Institute’s most recent Work From Home, City Pulse, and Global Workplace Surveys have revealed some surprising insights — and questions — about people’s perceptions about health and wellness and the future of the workplace. For this latest research, we collaborated with Michael Gao, M.D. of Haven Diagnostics and Assistant Professor (Courtesy) at Weill Cornell. Haven Diagnostics is a medical analytics company that helps employers quantify their infectious disease risk and plan a safe return to the office.
Originally published: https://www.gensler.com/research-insight/blog/5-design-interventions-to-mitigate-virus-risk-in-the
The year 2020 ushered in a new era for the economy and businesses, since it was the first time in more than a century that the harsh realities of a full scale, global pandemic revealed the serious impact that the spread of infectious disease has on our communities, our cities, and our workplaces. For office workers, many of whom could continue working from their home offices, the next step is to determine how and when they can return as safely as possible to the office. At the same time, companies are exploring what they can do to prepare for the return to work while minimizing the risks of disease transmission.
To help return to work safely and confidently and to reduce future operational risk, Gensler collaborated with Michael Gao, M.D. of Haven Diagnostics, to explore scenario-based design solutions that can help mitigate the risks associated with transmitting COVID-19, as well as protecting us from the spread of other infectious diseases, like the flu, or other pandemic-scale diseases that may arise in the future.
We explored four solutions ranging from a typical pre-pandemic open workplace, where people came to the office every day for mostly individual work, to a workplace designed for intense collaboration to support a mostly remote workforce. Each of these configurations are meant to be used in different ways.
Working with Haven Diagnostics, we simulated how each design impacts the spread of COVID-19 in the office environment.
To do so, we first created a virtual twin of the office and used agent-based modeling to mimic the movements and behaviors of employees in each layout. This allows us to understand how employees go about their workday and allows us to measure their interactions with both their colleagues and the environment across a variety of office tasks.
We then overlaid how COVID-19 virus is both added and subtracted to the environment: aerosol and droplet emission into the air through breathing and speech, as well as contact deposition on surfaces, and the removal of virus through natural decay, ventilation, filtration, and cleaning.
This, when combined with research on how the virus acts in a variety of conditions (e.g. the gradual decrease in droplets over various distances), allowed us to measure the “dose” of virus these virtual employees were exposed to and construct a probabilistic SEIR (Susceptible, Exposed, Infected, Recovered) model of COVID-19 transmission between individuals.
In summary, we were able to combine primary medical literature and expertise in office behaviors to map how differences in each environment impact risk.
Risk is not binary. Behavior changes risk, but office configuration and policy does as well. The goal was not to determine which single layout substantially outperformed the others, but to identify patterns, insights, and specific recommendations that could be applied to reduce risk:
We found that increased collaboration does not necessarily equal increased risk. Decreasing the number of days in the office more than offset the increased collaboration time while in the in the office. This allowed each employee to reduce their individual risk in a way that’s perhaps similar to a pandemic “carbon credit” (although reducing your commute will literally reduce your carbon footprint as well).
As people return to the office, they are doing so to meet specific business needs. Whether that is a space to connect with their team, collaborate, or focus there are ways to mitigate the risk associated through thoughtful policy or space interventions. None of these approaches fully prevents the spread of aerosol droplets, but through mitigation efforts we can lower the risk and better protect each other.
Haven Diagnostics Team: Michael Gao, M.D., Ben Siegel, Nathan Perilo
Gensler Team: Christine Barber, Janet Pogue McLaurin, Daniel Pamperin
For any media inquiries, please contact Kimberly Beals at Kimberly_Beals@Gensler.com.