Don’t Breathe on Me: Bringing Covid Compliance to the Office


Editor’s Note: Covid-19 has fundamentally changed how we live and work — in ways big and small. “Redefining Normal” captures how that transformation is playing out across North America, from its metropolises to its rural hamlets and all the towns in between.

Making sure buildings conform with the Americans With Disabilities Act can be a challenge for architects. Now there’s a whole new slate of rules to worry about -- for dealing with the coronavirus.

“We’re calling it Covid Compliance,” said Amanda Buckley, principal and chief marketing officer for Omniplan architects in Dallas. “Kind of like being ADA compliant, we now have to figure out how to be Covid compliant.”

The 80-person architecture office is in a good position to help clients because it’s working through identical issues itself. Employee workstations have been aligned to face the same direction “so nobody’s breathing or coughing in another person’s direction,” she said.

Don’t Breathe on Me: Bringing Covid Compliance to the Office

The company has thinned out furniture in common areas, piling it into a spare conference room until it might be needed again. Caution signs have been posted everywhere to remind staff about distancing and hygiene.

All the changes and anxiety about Covid-19 are tough on morale. To lighten the mood, Buckley decided to have a little fun using song lyrics as inspiration for custom-made signage. So there’s “Walk This Way” for the arrows on the floor, and “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” in the kitchen. A list of general rules is titled “Safety Dance.”

Buckley pored through Queen songs for a sign in honor of her favorite band. Turns out a lot of Queen lyrics are pretty dark, she says, but she finally found one that worked, kind of. A small tweak turned “Another One Bites the Dust” into “Another One Wipes the Dust,” for the sanitizing wipes dispensers.

Don’t Breathe on Me: Bringing Covid Compliance to the Office

Some clients are easier than others. The firm represents several of the megachurches in the region, and they’re all eager to get services back in-house without compromising safety.

“That’s the hardest thing,” Buckley said. “How do you figure out how to provide worship services for a church that hosts 4,000 people in a single service?”

One Covid-compliant change she thinks might stick around for the long term as work-from-home becomes institutionalized is smaller office footprints with more generous spacing -- perhaps even the return of offices with walls.

“Before, it was how many people can you pack into a given space,” she said. “I think we’re going to see people pull back on that.”

Don’t Breathe on Me: Bringing Covid Compliance to the Office

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