When COVID-19 shuttered and shifted West Michigan’s health systems and businesses, the workspace design team at Custer, like many, adjusted to working remotely. In addition to completing existing projects via virtual platforms, they rallied to innovate ways to help other businesses in the same predicament create resilient workspace adaptations. One of the first Custer COVID-19 projects, Spectrum Health’s facilities needed to protect staff while continuing to safely serve patients.
“We were behind the scenes helping to transform spaces,” says Sara Molina, Custer vice president of design and development. “We helped turn GVSU [Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences] [into] a COVID-19 emergency center, in case it was needed. And, their own environment needing modifications in a very quick manner to support this need to mitigate risk and protect employees from that potential contamination.”
Custer’s other space planning and workplace modification projects include Start Garden, Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, Oliver, and Great Lakes Healthcare, as well as Zimmer Biomet and Parkview Medical in Indiana.
“This is a whole new way of working … new territory for everyone,” Molina says. “What does this mean for the workplace environment in education, commercial, or healthcare? As design practitioners, we have always promoted best practices to support and protect public health. Infectious disease is a whole new ball of wax, another level.”
Custer’s COVID-19 services include consultations on planning safe workspaces that comply with social distancing mandates; designs for safe workstation layouts that include screens and panels to provide protective barriers; cleaning services; and change management experts to help guide organizations through the process of getting everyone back to work safely.
“We are also offering a free one-hour consultation. Custer has always been well rooted in our community and we feel passionate about working with businesses to assess and establish strategies for their return to the workplace,” Molina says. “There is a series of design implications that need to be taken into consideration. We can identify those and help customers understand the impact of that shift or change.”
In addition, Custer helps businesses have more success with staff that are working remotely from their homes. Considerations include ergonomics, reducing distractions, and effective technologies for working and meeting on virtual platforms. Molina has put her expertise to use in her own home office space, which takes up part of her bedroom. Setting schedules and protocols help her and her teenaged children get their work done without getting on each other’s nerves.
“So many new potential complications arise when it comes to ergonomics — home offices are not set up for use for a prolonged period of time,” she says. “We offer a series of work-from-home packages centered around physical health and well being, furniture to support work in a more proficient setting.”
As Custer gets West Michigan safely back to work, Molina sees opportunity for designing workspaces that not only contend with COVID-19’s repercussions but prepare schools, health systems, and businesses for whatever the future may bring.
“We’re not going to go back. If it’s not COVID-19, it could be something else,” Molina concludes. “Right now, shared spaces are highly dense. We’ll be looking more towards spaces that are less dense, shared spaces that have room for respect and a level of control, spaces that can ebb and flow, and have agility.”
Written by Interim Innovation News Editor, Estelle Slootmaker
Photos courtesy Custer Inc.