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Thinking Beyond COVID-19, Part Two: Design & Efficient Focus

Brady Mick

Question: Will our drive for more efficient learning and working be upended by the experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic?

When applied to the design of spaces for working and learning, efficiency is primarily evaluated tactically, that is, with numbers that directly equate to cost, time and productivity. In workplace and higher education design, we call this “utilization;” in K-12 design, we refer to it as “scheduling.”

During the past decade or so, a sub-industry of consultants and software tools has emerged to evaluate space efficiency. However, our experiences with COVID-19 are calling into question how we think about the topic.

 

Space Efficiency

Traditionally, space efficiency has largely been approached by asking: “Is this space being used often enough to create ample, or at least satisfactory, value from the investment?” In this tactical way of thinking, the quantity of time that a particular space is in use is the primary, if not the only, factor when determining whether its efficiency is good or bad.

On the surface, this makes sense. However, the forced experiment created by the current pandemic is changing our understanding and measurement of tactical efficiency. We are in the process of reimagining efficiency numbers by asking certain questions through the lens of our COVID-19 experience:

  1. Do we have enough space(s)?
  2. Do we need less space?
  3. Should we create different space(s)?
  4. Do we sell or lease the buildings we own?
  5. Will some user groups be remote forever?

Answers to these questions have a tangible impact on the places where we work and learn. However, we must move beyond these more tactical matters and consider three strategic macro-categories concerning space efficiency:

  1. Sustainability — Is our space designed toward achieving more with less?
  2. Concentration — Is our space attending to distractions and its impact on how people perform?
  3. Productivity — Is our space maximizing the results of people in proportion to their appropriate effort?

Right now, as a result of COVID-19, we may be wringing waste out of a previously inefficient space evaluation system that was far too tactical and nowhere near strategic enough. We now have the opportunity to envision and create more efficient spaces if we are willing to abandon entrenched paradigms — and make room for new ones.

This post is one in a multi-part series that challenges the design community to think beyond COVID-19 as we explore the principles of efficient focus, effective collaboration and experiential innovation. The common thread through it all? We must think beyond our current context to anticipate and prepare for an even more productive and fulfilling world. If you missed the introduction to this series, please click here. You can move on to Part Three — about design and effective collaboration — here.

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