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What It's Like To Relocate An Office In The Midst Of A Pandemic

When the coronavirus first became news in North Texas, the ink had hardly dried on Hoefer Wysocki's new lease at Ross Tower in Downtown Dallas.

The architecture firm was scheduled to move into the high-rise as the pandemic was in full swing, cases were rising and employees were stuck at home. 

Employees create a safe pathway for workers on moving day at Hoefer Wysocki.

The challenge then became safely moving 30-plus employees into roughly 12K SF of office space while coming up with updated interior design and office concepts for the post-coronavirus world without having the same amount of access to the old and new spaces to visualize these changes in real time and in person.

A team of designated leaders, including Director of Interior Design Tiffany Kalloor and Director of Strategy Travis Leissner, had the unique challenge of figuring out what office space should look like in Downtown Dallas in the wake of the pandemic and what the new economic realities may be.

“The biggest shift we saw when COVID-19 hit was that not only were we conscious of new office spending, but we were now tightening our office spending because we wanted to be mindful of the fact that the economy was quickly changing,” Kalloor said. 

The firm liquidated old office furniture and gave a large amount of it away, even offloading items to a newly minted entrepreneur to make way for the new.

Moving day at Hoefer Wysocki.

The firm's internal moving team focused on three essential coronavirus-related relocation items: the adaptation of technology, upgraded air quality and an ongoing commitment to open space and flexibility even if it means creating social distancing through the strategic positioning of hallways and the design of open spaces, Kalloor said. 

Kalloor said the idea of turning all workspaces into private offices is unrealistic even in the wake of the coronavirus.

“If density is your goal, and if you are only leasing enough square feet to accommodate a certain density that relies on open office seating, it’s not realistic then to [transform] all of those user spaces into private offices,” Kalloor said. 

Hoefer Wysocki wanted the same flexibility of design and open office concept at Ross Tower that it had before the coronavirus. The firm also needed enough room to accommodate another 30 or so employees as the business expands.

To do this safely, the team heightened the divider panels between desks, better positioned and controlled the flow of space and furniture, and positioned architectural viewing tables in a manner that turned them into natural social distancing tools.

Hoefer Wysocki's new office incorporates all the benefits of open spaces while encouraging social distancing.

The other key to post-coronavirus office design is a strong focus on technology and HVAC equipment.

Hoefer Wysocki increased its air filtration systems in the new office and began to evaluate how to best use technology throughout the office to support social distancing when needed. Kalloor sees technology services and support for these services as a large part of the future of office design and believes many of the questions businesses will be asking themselves in the future will revolve around the presence of technology on-site.

“How can we position the office environment to have an elevated amount of videoconferencing technology, and how can we make sure that we have the bandwidth to support those streaming [services]?” she said. “And how can we distribute technology throughout the office for all of those informal times when you want to touch base with somebody but you don’t want to occupy a conference room?” 

As an interior designer, these are the questions Kalloor hopes to answer for her own clients when they return to their workplaces in the future.