By Janet Morra, AIA, LEED AP, Principal and Partnerat Margulies Perruzzi
Launched in July 2020 by the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), the WELL Health-Safety Rating is a concept whose time has come, especially as businesses, institutions and organizations strive to return to an updated version of pre-pandemic normalcy.
IWBI defines the WELL Health-Safety Rating as “an evidence-based, third-party verified rating focused on operational policies, maintenance protocols and emergency plans to address a post-COVID-19 environment now and broader health and safety-related issues into the future.”
The idea was forged during the pandemic’s first wave, one of the earliest results of IWBI’s Task Force on COVID-19. According to IWBI, “nearly 600 public health experts, virologists, government officials, academics, business leaders, architects, designers, building scientists and real estate professionals” participated.
The WELL Health-Safety Rating contains a subset of relevant features from the WELL Building Standard that were adapted for a facilities and operations focus. It promotes indoor safety by providing a means to guide, validate, recognize, and scale management of health and safety issues in shared spaces. IWBI states that “third-party review ensures integrity and consistency, and results in a WELL Health-Safety seal for buildings and spaces that meet the rating’s requirements, communicating leadership and a commitment to the health and well-being of the people who frequent the space.”
At Margulies Peruzzi, we believe that this rating system is to health and safety what LEED is to sustainable design, and that it will gain the same traction among design professionals and owners. Directed towards facility operations and management, the rating is applicable to all new and existing building and facility types across an array of markets and large and small organizations alike. IWBI cites some recognizable names among those that have achieved the rating: Prudential Center, Fairfax County Public Schools, Yankee Stadium, Empire State Realty Trust, JPMorgan Chase, T-Mobile, Four Seasons, Citi, and Brookfield Properties.
IWBI recounts numerous advantages to owners: attracting and retaining employees, clients, and investors; building brand equity through leadership and innovation; and promoting employee health and well-being and in doing so, maximizing productivity.
The rating system examines more than 20 features across six main themes – Cleaning and Sanitization Procedures, Emergency Preparedness Programs, Health Service Resources, Air and Water Quality Management, Stakeholder Engagement and Communication, and Innovation. For a facility to earn a WELL Health-Safety seal, a minimum of 15 criteria must be met, including as many as three submissions under Innovation. IWBI provides collateral material, a detailed online guide, and an extensive checklist to help participants through the process. Like the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED project certification, there is a cost attached to earning this rating. It ranges from a low of $2,730 for a small business at a single location to a capped high of $166,000 for a company with up to to 10,000 locations.
In another similarity to LEED, Green Building Certification Inc. (GBCI) in collaboration with IWBI developed a rigorous process for individual accreditation. Becoming a WELL AP (accredited professional) signifies advanced knowledge in human health and wellness in the built environment, and specialization in the WELL Building Standard.
As part of our firm’s commitment to workplace health and safety for our clients, Margulies Peruzzi supported interior designer Alison Buckley, Associate IIDA, in her successful quest to earn the WELL AP certification.
Workplace Research in the Time of COVID
The workspace is an important physical asset within which a high degree of ingenuity and productivity is enabled. Thus inspired, we launched our first workplace strategy research in 2016, drawing on more than two decades of working with countless companies to help them create optimal work environments. Research continued, and in early 2020 when the world as we knew it changed, we shifted our focus—much like IWBI’s task force—to examining the ramifications of COVID-19 on physical work environments and their occupants.
Kicking off a series of five reports that share current thought leadership on the nature of work and how it and office environments are evolving during this health crisis was Volume 1: COVID-19 and the Future of the Workplace, published in May 2020. It presents the results of a survey we conducted of thousands of industry professionals to gain an understanding of the virus’s impact on the physical office environment. We received more than 500 responses to several fundamental questions:
When asked what most excited them about the prospect of returning to their workplace, 90% of respondents cited collaborating in person again and reuniting with colleagues. Coming in second was accessing office resources and equipment (64%), followed by returning to a well-designed, ergonomic workspace (58%), and working in environment that allows them to focus (47%).
Regarding their concerns, 80% cited safety in common spaces, followed by social distancing in meeting and collaboration space (70%); work environment cleanliness (68%); interaction with the public, visitors, and vendors (66%); workspace density (60%); and air quality (38%).
Working from home provided valuable lessons learned. “Space to concentrate is important” garnered 87% agreement. Other feedback acknowledged the desirability of face-to-face interaction (83%); value of engagement with company culture and mission (82%); ability to be productive remotely (82%); importance of ergonomics (75%); and ability to manage teams remotely (73%).
The report features a 10-page section, “Re-Thinking Office Building & Workplace Design,” that contains product reviews and explores various options that align with WELL Health-Safety Rating features under Air and Water Quality Management, Stakeholder Engagement & Communication, and Innovation. These include MEP improvements; UV lighting for treatment of air and surfaces; screening devices and sensors; information technology; wellness standards that go beyond FitWel, LEED and WELL Building; social changes; furniture solutions; antimicrobial surfaces; infection control risk assessment; and HR strategies for remote and hybrid work.
Volume 2: Reshaping the Workplace was published in August 2020. It asks the key question, “What does the future of office design look like?” in a post-COVID future, and explores impacts on real estate, space metrics and ratios, new concepts in space design, and technologies for space management. Among the challenges that owners and facility managers can look forward to are increases in workplace utilization rates, safety protocols, and need of technology for collaboration; management of a reduced in-person population due to continued remote work; and restoration of employee engagement and culture. It was around this time that the concept of a hybrid work model began to emerge, which intersects with features under four of the six WELL Health-Safety Rating themes.
Rethinking the Corporate Office Building
With a total inventory of over 5.5 billion square feet of office space leased or available for lease in the United States at the end of June 2021, landlords are in the vanguard of building owners who must adapt their assets to support the health and safety of current and prospective tenants. Margulies Peruzzi’s Volume 3: Building Design Reimagined/How Will COVID-19 Affect Building Design? published in September 2020, provides practical guidance to landlords specific to market challenges, tenant needs, building improvements, and space management. The primary logistical and financial challenges we foresaw as tenants returned were the ability to comply with social distancing in common areas, the need to increase security and safety protocols, improving HVAC performance and outside air intake, providing hands-free options, and reductions in public transportation and on-site employees.
Predicting that tenants would have many questions of landlords, the report provided a substantial list that included “What WELL/LEED standards do you have in place?” We forecast that traditional building amenities such as serveries and fitness centers would take on new forms and procedures, and that other innovations such as refrigerated marketplaces and moving conference areas close to lobbies to reduce foot traffic through office spaces would become more common. Presented in two categories (existing and new buildings), the report contains recommendations for potential improvements to parking and building entrances; building lobbies and security desks; elevator lobbies; elevator technology; restroom layout and design; grab-n-go, cafes, and food pickup; markets; fitness centers; HVAC systems and the energy code; and building control systems.
The Path Forward
The shape of future office environments will be largely determined by three factors: the ability of company leaders to direct and manage change; the subsequent development of organization-wide policies concerning remote work, safety, and occupancy; and the financial implications of those policies on facility decisions. A successful transition from the peak pandemic work-from-home scenario to a return-to-office scenario will require a spectrum of expertise and depend heavily on corporate agility and flexibility. Features of the WELL Health-Safety Rating’s Emergency Preparedness Programs theme, in particular the development of emergency, business continuity, and healthy re-entry plans, have a direct bearing on future space planning and allocation.
Margulies Perruzzi’s January 2021 report, Volume 4: Post-COVID Workplace presents four workplace models that corporate leaders can adapt to their own company’s unique blueprint. They are traditional, flexible, balanced, and lean, and range in 25% increments from 100% of the workforce returning to the office in the traditional model, to 25% in the lean model. Each model comes with its own financial and logistical considerations, especially if more space is needed to accommodate social distancing. The graphic below demonstrates how the models compare in terms of cost and space.
The New Hybrid Environment
Long a staple in certain high-tech industries and made possible through advancements in digital technology, COVID-19 has pushed the hybrid work environment model to the mainstream. Now, as the world grapples with the delta variant and new facts about its transmissibility to and by the vaccinated, Margulies Perruzzi’s just-released Volume 5 Workplace Strategy Report: Embracing the Hybrid Workspace affirms the logic of transitioning from a traditional to hybrid model. A survey of 8,600 people across multiple business sectors revealed that 44% of workers plan on being in the office three days a week, and 25% plan on two days. Only 9% responded that they would return to a pre-pandemic office presence.
Corporate leaders are becoming more receptive to the idea that work environments must embrace change as a constant and evolve in response. Catalysts include an increase in workplace utilization rates and safety protocols; restoration of employee engagement and culture; continuation of remote work and subsequent management of a reduced in-person population; and an increased need for collaboration technology and training.
Planning a return to the physical office under ever-changing conditions and advisories from the CDC is yet one more challenge for C-suite executives, facility managers, and employees. The numbers are significant. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of July 2021, there were 153.6 million people aged 16 and over in America’s workforce, of which 82.2 million are office based. Of those, 13.2% of full-time workers in all industries engaged in remote work. Although this is down from a high of 35.4% in May 2020, it nevertheless represents more than 10 million workers. That’s a lot of people, square footage, furniture, equipment, and associated costs to consider while simultaneously prioritizing health and safety.
Change is difficult, but meaningful change cannot happen in a vacuum or without confident leadership. Approaching it in an analytical and positive manner can diminish fear of the unknown and promote inclusivity. Informed corporate leaders are adopting sequential steps for creating a practical, sustainable strategy for their companies, the first one being the creation of a framework that identifies employee type profiles and their correlative space needs.
Once the framework has been established, the next steps are to:
Determine corporate willingness to change and how to build consensus around change.
Set guidelines for remote work and HR policies.
Confirm the financial implications.
Introduce property technology to manage space utilization on an ongoing basis.
Develop architectural, design, and engineering principles.
Form an implementation plan.
There are many different options available for implementing a safe return to the office, but there is no “one size fits all” solution. The most successful solution will be that which is uniquely tailored to a company’s business model, strategic plan, and corporate culture. Flexibility of both thought and design are the keys to cultivating a successful hybrid work environment.
Drawing a final correlation to LEED, many companies opt to have their facilities designed to various LEED certification levels without pursuing registration. The same approach can be taken with the WELL Health-Safety Rating. Although we advocate participation in both programs, only an owner can weigh the value of either investment against their project goals and budget.
Health & Safety Efforts Backed by Science
Program participants are in excellent company. According to IWBI, globally there are 20,950+ assets enrolled totaling 1.8 billion square feet, with 13,340+ and 1.3 billion square feet rated. At the end of the process, the WELL Health-Safety seal is a tangible and visible reminder that your building’s health and safety efforts are backed by science and validated by a third party. Seeing the seal outside tells employees, visitors, clients, and customers that they will be safe inside.
According to the CBRE Q3 Cambridge Lab MarketView report, “the impact of COVID on office market demand has resulted in nearly every building owner evaluating whether a portion or all of their buildings can be converted to lab.” From a design perspective, these lab conversions pose an interesting set of challenges, particularly in an industry like life sciences where researchers might be doing anything from theoretical research on how to make a new salad dressing to developing prototypes for gene therapy.
By Imran Khan, Associate Principal and Director of Science at Margulies Perruzzi.
New design delivers efficient space utilization and flexible floor-plan that reflects how work is performed now and in the future
BOSTON, Dec. 8, 2020 —Margulies Perruzzi(MP), one of New England’s most innovative architectural and interior design firms, announced today that it has completed the renovation of John Snow Inc.’s 63,000 SF corporate headquarters at 44 Farnsworth St. in the Fort Point Channel neighborhood.
John Snow Inc. (JSI) is a global public health consulting organization dedicated to improving the health of individuals and communities and to providing an environment where people of passion can pursue this cause.
Located on seven floors of the brick and beam, loft-style building, JSI’s space was dominated. by shared offices along the perimeter walls and long hallways, with a limited number of conference rooms on the inside space.
To make better use of the space, Margulies Perruzzi consolidated the company’s footprint from seven to six floors by creating a more efficient layout with a flexible floor-plan aimed at improving the work environment for the staff. The firm reduced the number and size of the private offices and stressed shared spaces. Conference rooms range in size from small huddle rooms for one to two people to meet or to hold conference calls; team rooms for four to six people which offer traditional conference room layouts as well as informal casual seating; medium conference rooms with both seated and standing options; and large conference rooms with mobile furniture to accommodate a variety of uses.
Margulies Perruzzi determined the appropriate size and configuration for new workstations which are now height adjustable with personal storage and monitor stands for employees. They are positioned to encourage connection between the staff and to access natural light and exterior views. Clusters of bench seating were installed on different floors to provide temporary seating for interns or traveling staff. A new centrally located break area was created on one floor that could comfortably accommodate large groups. Other floors feature program spaces like collaboration nooks or the workout room to encourage employees to meet on or go to other floors to increase interaction among staff.
“Margulies Perruzzi captured our vision and created a space that is light-filled, flexible, and modern,” said Alex Baker, chief operating officer at JSI. “The design team created a warm environment featuring jewel tones and elements of nature, and our new office space adds to the overall experience for our employees.”
The project team included:
Architect: Margulies Perruzzi
MEP: WB Engineering
GC: Tremont Construction Management
OPM: AVAIL Project Management
Living Wall: Garden on the Wall
About Margulies Perruzzi As one of New England’s top architectural and interior design firms, Margulies Perruzzi (MP) designs Workplace, Health, Science, and Real Estate projects that inspire and nurture human endeavor. More information may be found at https://mparchitectsboston.com.
The updated space is designed to allow for flexibility to maximize the usability of the space available. The suite at 9 Channel Center utilized movable walls between all conference rooms, allowing for reconfiguration depending on need, maximizing square footage. The space also features a large conference room with a moveable wall that allows the space to convert into an even larger space open for volunteer opportunities with their community partners or event staging space.
“It was clear that we needed a headquarters that addresses the demands of an organization that no longer requires a centralized location for its workforce,” said Bob Giannino, president and CEO at United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley. “The historical brick and industrial mix design reflect United Way’s grounded, foundational role in the community yet also signals that we are an innovative organization that adapts to respond to current issues and needs in the community. Our new location s bright, energizing, and efficient while at the same time providing the flexibility our staff, volunteers, community members and corporate partners need to keep pace in today’s shifting environment.”
United Way of Massachusetts Bay’s mission is to create positive, lasting change for those in need by harnessing the power of people working together. It achieves its mission by mobilizing people, businesses, nonprofits, and government agencies, neighborhoods and focuses to create better lives for those it serves in Eastern Massachusetts, Southeastern New Hampshire, and Maine.
United Way’s powerful network has the depth and scale to help ensure families have safe, affordable housing, jobs that allow them to support themselves, and access to financial tools and coaching to help build a better future, Recognizing that educational success is a strategy to break the cycle of poverty, United Way is also focused on preparing young children to enter school, providing critical social and emotional skills and ensuring youth have the support they need to stay in school and graduate.
Margulies Perruzzi strategically designed the regional headquarters to reflect the United Way’s culture and branding while preserving the character of the former industrial building. The design includes bold colorful accents while staying true to historic elements such as exposed brick and beam. Margulies Perruzzi worked closely with the United Way to provide a variety of work settings that would best support the work style of their employees, including sit-to-stand workstations, open and enclosed huddle spaces, individual phone rooms, and a multi-purpose employee hub. Technology was integrated into all these work settings to maximize functionality.
The construction team was careful to retain and reuse materials to preserve capital for the nonprofit while creating high-quality, collaborative workspace that supports internal workflow and events with their community partners.
The project team includes:
Architect: Margulies Perruzzi
GC/CM: Gilbane Building Co.
MEP Engineer: Allied Consulting Engineering
About Margulies Perruzzi
As one of New England’s top architectural and interior design firms, Margulies Perruzzi (MP) designs Workplace, Health+Science, and Real Estate projects that inspire and nurture human endeavor. More information may be found at https://mparchitectsboston.com.
For many years, Boston has been the world leader in the life science industry, with startups and global giants alike competing for talent, as well as real estate. Last year, a report from commercial brokerage firm CBRE ranked the area as the number one destination for recent graduates interested in the field, as well as first in funding from the National Institutes of Health. It also ranked the region second in total sciences employees, right behind San Francisco.
Nathan Turner Senior Project Manager and Associate Partner, Margulies Perruzzi Age: 44 Industry experience: 22 years
Nate Turner recently marked his 22nd anniversary at Boston-based Margulies Perruzzi Architects (MPA). In recent years he’s specialized in repurposing brick-and-beam properties in neighborhoods including the Seaport District, updating historic structures for the 21st century economy. Turner’s recent projects include repositioning of three buildings on Farnsworth Street and Thomson Place with new ground-floor retail and windows, and updates to 10 and 20 Channel Center including new tenant amenities and branding materials.
Q: How did you address historic preservation guidelines when adding ground-floor retail to the Thomson Place property? A: We saw an opportunity to connect the historic thoroughfare of Congress Street with Seaport Boulevard and have Thomson Place be a prime connector. Part of the success of what we’ve been able to do so far is we’ve worked well with the Landmarks Commission starting from the place of what’s important to them. Instead of creating an uphill struggle, let’s focus on the historic elements that are desirable and build off that rather than creating something new.
How do you take a building with small window openings while trying to maximize glass for shoppers? For Thomson Place, it was trying to accentuate the arches that had been modified over the years and restore it to its rightful condition. But also taking a look at the sidewalks, the widths of those and understanding where the curb cuts and ramps are, making them pedestrian-friendly. On the finishing touches, it’s bumping out the sidewalks. We don’t want cars zooming up and down the street.
Q: What are the sweet spots in building sizes, heights and unit count that lend themselves well to cross-laminated timber construction? A: There are provisions in the building code that allow you to use it as a structural element, but there are forthcoming code changes that allow you to build up to 10 stories. In a recent project on A Street, we added a 2-story addition to a historical structure. It’s lighter in load than steel or concrete, and the same level of construction without impacting the building as much. Someone trying to do a 15-story building in Boston
might come up with some hurdles, because they would be on the leading edge of the code updates.
The 2021 code changes will allow uses in taller and bigger structures and more applications. You might see the introduction of CLT fire stairs. They might have to be clad with materials, but the more you can use heavy timber, the more they can be fastened in an interconnected way, which would lead to improved construction times. When you’re dealing with mechanical fasteners and just one trade, that’s different than having a steel fabricator and having to stop for the welding and cure the concrete and do it layer by layer.
Q: Have you received requests to do office retrofits during COVID-19? A: It’s kind of a blessing and a curse. This is a great opportunity for deferred maintenance projects or overall master planning and capital improvements. When you have lower occupancy in a building, that means fewer hurdles and headaches. The biggest challenge is just financing and that’s going to vary from owner to owner. Everyone’s trying to look at the glass as half full and saying they can take advantage of the downturn, and the labor force may be more available to deal with these projects. There may be more competitive bidding or less downtime.
In tenant spaces, it’s a similar mindset, but implemented differently with a certain amount of uncertainty about what the next three months will bring. We’ve seen a lot of tenants say, “OK, we have to do something. What are the simpler things we can do right away that are low-cost and high-impact?” Signage, sanitizing stations, that’s the easy stuff. Anybody can do it at low cost. But when you think about furniture
panels, spacing of rooms, updating office floor plans, you start getting into operational questions. People have questions. Do I need to have the conversation with the landlord about the HVAC system and how late my air stays on at night? There’s a good-better-best solution.
Q: As Boston prepares a new coastal resiliency zoning overlay, what do developers need to know about best practices in floodproofing? A: As a coastal city, we will not be the only ones dealing with this. Venice continues to be the bellwether for a lot of us. There are a lot of similarities. Boston has done a great job of creating a resiliency group that’s looking at measurable goals by 2030 and understands the risks, looking at vulnerable areas that are landmarks or neighborhoods. We’re trying to be proactive, but the solutions are not easy. It’s hard to
implement across the city in a budget-friendly manner. No matter what you do, there’s going to be a weak link.
Q: Is the above-ground podium the current preferred option for parking in multifamily projects? A: Some of it depends on the soil conditions and where the water tables are, but I’ve seen some projects look at parking as a buffer between a ground-level use and the floors above. But you’re trading some real estate from an investment perspective. What I’ve been hearing over the last year or so is the city is trying to process what the right ratios are going forward. If it’s for a building where the demographic is predominantly college students, [some developers are] looking whether to repurpose the garage into additional living units. If they’re renovating, it’s a great time to reclaim some square-footage.
Five Favorite Classic Rock Songs 1. “All Along the Watchtower” by Jimi Hendrix 2. “Hurricane” by Bob Dylan 3. “Hotel California” by the Eagles 4. “Long Time” by Boston 5. “Stranglehold” by Ted Nugent
BANKER & TRADESMAN’S BEST – THANK YOU to all that voted! Margulies Perruzzi is honored to have won in the following categories:
– Real Estate: Architect / Design – Commercial Real Estate: Architect/Design – Commercial Real Estate: Interior Design
– Banking: Building Design/Architect
* All of the winners will appear in the 11/16 issue of Banker & Tradesman.
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The post-pandemic workplace will deliver roomier office spaces with better environmental conditions. They will be designed with sharing in mind for flexible scheduling.
The post-pandemic workplace “is going to actually put a lot of pressure on companies, and in particular their HR departments, to understand what is the right ratio of people that will be back in the workplace,” said Tim Bailey, an associate partner and senior architect at Margulies Perruzzi, an architectural firm in Boston.
Our reports are continuously updated to share the current thought leadership on the nature of work and how it is evolving. Visit our Workplace Research section by clicking here.
Article in Connect Commercial Real Estate
Architecture firm Margulies Perruzzi surveyed thousands of industry professionals this past spring to gain an understanding of the impact that COVID-19 had on the office environment. Beyond questions of how extensively tenants plan to use their spaces post-pandemic, the results of the survey make it clear that landlords will have their work cut out for them.
Additionally, The AIA COVID-19 Task Force (including MP’s John Fowler) has published tools to assess and catalog the adaptive reuse of buildings as Alternative Care Sites. We are extremely grateful for all of the hard work and sacrifice healthcare professionals are putting in on the front lines of this pandemic and are looking for more ways to support them whenever we can.
Our reports are continuously updated to share the current thought leadership on the nature of work and how it is evolving. Visit our Workplace Research section by clicking here.