#11: Welcome Back, Workers

by | December 15, 2020 2 Ideas

Recently, a crack squad of designers and architects in SERA’s Workplace studio took part in an international design competition that asked competitors to envision different aspects of the return to work in an office building environment. (Spoiler alert: we won.) The specific area that we chose to investigate deeply is the first-floor lobby and shared amenity spaces.

Not merely the connection between the exterior and the elevator, lobbies serve a higher purpose. The design and material selections of a lobby can speak to the higher aspirations of the building itself, or its occupants. The lobby, both in hospitality and office settings, has become a living room of sorts – a highly active zone that sets the stage for what else the building has to offer.

Here are three ways we believe lobbies can be repurposed to promote worker health and well-being in a post-pandemic world:

1. Reinforce new and satisfying rituals of arrival and departure

The CDC has consistently stated that, in addition to social distancing and mask-wearing, handwashing is one of the most important acts we can do to minimize the spread of germs. What if we celebrated the act of handwashing by putting thoughtfully designed public wash basins at each entrance to the building, or integrated them into the reception desk so that building users and visitors felt not obliged, but delighted to wash their hands each time they come and go?

Materials and forms might be inspired by hospitality design. These basins could also be integrated into a larger employee entrance experience, wherein complimentary masks, health monitoring tools and personal storage were also available.

2. Increase ventilation

Because the lobby is host to nearly every person in the building at some time each day, enhanced ventilation is paramount. Ideally, lobbies would provide direct, open air to the outdoors and cross-ventilation. Though not well-suited to colder climates, this strategy does the best job of dispersing airborne particles.

Another solution would be to have a dedicated HVAC zone in the lobby that provides six or more air changes per hour. Given their unique location at the main entrance of the office building, lobbies could more easily have a distinct HVAC system, or be opened to fresh air without challenging the overall HVAC strategy.

3. Elevator Check-in

Clearly a crowded elevator is antithetical to social distancing. Under current distancing guidelines, no more than two passengers could fit in an elevator car. Perhaps part of the new lobby arrival sequence includes reserving a spot on the elevator. This could be done via a phone app, a touchless kiosk or by the receptionist.

The coronavirus pandemic continues to present a tremendous challenge for our nation and our world. But perhaps it’s just the catalyst we need to refocus on human health and wellbeing at every scale of design, and find tangible solutions that provide multiple benefits.

Join us in January, for our first Silver Linings installment of 2021 *gasp*, where we look at other ways to enhance the ground floor experience in a post-Covid workplace.


  1. Cristian Asher says |

    Great piece! These ideas are exciting–what I take from this is that our response to the pandemic doesn’t have to be just about constraints, it can open up entirely new directions for amazing experiential design. Love it!

  2. Stuart Colby says |

    Lobbies can play an increasingly important role (as in a hotel) for orientation and productive waiting (places to touchdown and do some tasks on a phone or laptop) while an elevator queue is in progress. Also, as some of our clients have become more sensitized to security issues, the lobby (and adjacent meeting spaces) can serve as a front line to get business done while securing your private workspace.

    The cartoon takes me right back to 2015!

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