Re-imagining spaces in a post-Covid world

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Sarah Walker

There’s already a lot been said in the press and across the web on the scale of Covid-19’s impact on the world – but it still staggers me to think that we’ve lived through the largest global health crisis in living memory. I was talking about this with my colleague Steve earlier, and I wanted to share the thoughts that came out of that discussion – because the more we spoke, the more it became clear that the way in which organizations use space is going to be critical to whether they thrive, or fade away, in the months and years to come.

The importance of space in being Covid compliant

As we emerge from lockdown, there’s lots of talk of becoming ‘Covid compliant’ – that is, having a workplace that is safe for employees and customers to be in without transmitting the virus. Far from being a temporary measure, I believe that we’re going to see legislative changes in the future that will have implications across our entire society – from businesses, public services and shops, to public transport, parks, and even town layouts. After all, we’ve just seen that the economy shrunk by a shocking 20% in April, largely due to lockdown. To avoid the same happening in future, it’s imperative to find ways of ensuring that life can continue without the need for lockdown – and the consequential economic shutdown.

And the truth, we’re finding, is that most places will need to adapt. Take supermarkets, for example. The work that supermarkets have done to keep people safe as they buy essential food and medicines during lockdown has been incredible – but I don’t think anyone would say it’s been perfect. In so many shops, for example, it’s simply impossible to keep two meters apart as you walk down an aisle. At the till, you pass your food to an attendant, who then handles it as they scan it, and passes it back to you – another point of transmission. Though the measures taken have of course helped, in the longer term supermarkets will need to consider things like rearranging the aisles and redesigning tills in their stores to keep customers safe.

The same is true for the wider retail sector, not only to keep customers safe but to account for new shopping trends; for example, adding extra internet order collection points to cope with the rapid rise of ordering online. In manufacturing, most assembly lines have workers stood close to each other, handling the same components; how can they adapt to keep their employees safe in a cost-effective manner? Businesses who provide office space for rent will need to consider how their workspaces can be redesigned for the growing number of customers wanting hot desks for their employees, while still keeping everyone safe. This will be especially challenging in cities, where the only space available is often vertical – how do you make a tower block safe for social distancing and practical at the same time?

Alongside the question of compliance, many organizations will be starting to consider the utilization of their current space. Lockdown has proven to many organizations that they don’t need a central office to operate; with that in mind, what do they do with that office space? Barclays is already considering its location strategy, and other companies will no doubt be doing the same.

So what does all of this mean in real terms? It’s an issue that HR managers, facilities managers, and space management professionals will need to be involved in solving – and simply put, it all comes down to space.

The challenge of understanding your space

I don’t think it’s an oversimplification to say that lockdown was in part necessary because nobody’s space was set up to manage a pandemic like Covid-19. Large office blocks put people on top of each other, with narrow corridors and small lifts amplifying the problem. The public transport systems those people use to get to work are similarly not designed to give people space. The efforts supermarkets have made to make their spaces safe, as we’ve already covered, have identified the need for a more fundamental change in how they use their space.

To adapt, organizations need to get a handle on their space, and how it’s currently used, in order to make intelligent decisions on what to do next.

Unfortunately, many organizations are a way off from having that understanding. Most companies will have floor plans at least, and some may have more detailed information – but there’s a high probability that most of that information is months, if not years or even decades, out of date. One large aerospace organization I worked in the past actually had this information stored in hard copy, on graph paper with cutouts of desks and walls stuck to it to create the floor plan!

These plans often won’t capture the ‘as built’ conditions, by which I mean all the modifications that have been made beyond the original plan. Extra walls, pipes, ducts and wiring – all may have been added, and if they aren’t on the plans you’re referring to when reorganizing your space, they could throw a real spanner into your plans, costing time and money.

 

Introducing Reality Capture

The good news is that there’s a better way – a group of technologies and systems that together we call ‘reality capture.’ Simply put, reality capture enables you to create a 3D representation of a space or a subject from the real world – your office, or restaurant, or school, for example. The scans can be incredibly detailed – showing you doors, walls, windows, pipes, wires, even plug sockets – and the software that interprets the data can do things like calculate floor space, numbers of windows, and offer other useful insights.

With that information, you can start to make intelligent decisions about how to use your space and make it Covid compliant – or even how to repurpose it entirely to better serve the needs of you and your customers. Compared to manual methods of measuring space and planning changes to your space, reality capture is more accurate, less labour-intensive, and of course faster – meaning you can complete your space re-imagining project faster, and start to drive value from your real estate. In fact, you could go from scanning to having the information ready to look at in just a few days, depending on the size and complexity of the site you’re working on.

The true value of reality capture comes from combining the detailed data that you generate when scanning the space, with the intelligence and automation that the right software brings to the process. Having that accurate, detailed and up-to-date information on how your space is currently used means you can make your plans with confidence. Take an office, for example. With an accurate scan of each floor, you’ll know the exact square footage of the building – meaning you can work out how to create corridors and workspaces that allow people to socially distance. Planners could use software like PointFuse to plan repurposing an office block into a warehouse, knowing that the system will tell them which walls they can move, and which ones need to be left alone. You can even show your plans, in 3D, to other stakeholders to collaborate on your project and get their buy-in.

 

How to get started with Reality Capture

Hopefully this blog has got you as excited about the possibilities of reality capture as I am. It really does present a massive opportunity to respond to the challenges Covid-19 has thrown up faster and more effectively than outdated manual methods of space planning can.

If you’re worried that reality capture involves complicated systems and will take months to implement – don’t be. The simplest way to leverage reality capture is to work with a cost-effective, speedy solution provider who can take care of everything for you – from scanning through to delivering the final plans. And given that a recent survey we conducted revealed that nearly 1 in 3 organizations are still in the early stages of their reality capture journey, you can rest assured that the market is well set up to support those just getting started.

I’m really excited to see what the future brings. Now that organizations large and small can access highly detailed, accurate models of their spaces, and use them to gain insights they might otherwise have missed, the only limit to what we do with our offices, schools, hospitals and other spaces is our imagination. I hope social distancing doesn’t become a permanent feature of our society – but I also hope that it heralds the creation of imaginative, safer, healthier spaces for us to work and play in.

There’s also plenty you can learn on our website about how reality capture can help you manage your space, from redesigning the office to totally re-purposing the building. Software