With Pandemic Still in Effect its Business as Usual in Our New Normal

By Josh Kulla

As we move through the phases to reopen our local economy, one can almost hear a collective sigh of relief for the belief that we are finally returning to business as usual. But we know that isn’t true. The nondiscriminatory COVID-19 is still out there, and it has changed how we all do business, perhaps for good. It’s changed office work, education, health care, hotel service, restaurant service, personal services, and how we shop for groceries. It’s shaken the way we work and play, and has put us in the unenviable position of having to redefine a new normal.

We’ve learned many lessons in the past few months that will help us in the future. Sheltering in place isn’t for everyone, but we know how to do it now. We’ve proven that work-life balance is possible, no matter how challenging. People who were not set up to work at home figured it out, and when they needed a break, they were able to find distractions. Working parents of school-age children performed daily juggling acts as they helped their kids navigate distance learning. We learned that we are resilient, as individuals and as a community.

We’ve also discovered the importance of meaningful daily interactions within our communities that we had previously taken for granted. Walks close to home have helped us forge deeper connections with neighbors, from six or more feet away. At the same time, we have felt the temporary loss of communities we’ve established for ourselves – neighborhood restaurants, health clubs, art events, schools, and our places of work, among them.

Evolution for a safe, healthy future

So, what now? As purveyors of the built environment, it’s on us to help prepare our communities for the next pandemic while we’re still firmly entrenched in this one. We must create a solid foundation for the new normal, and help make our response more turnkey next time and not nearly as painful. The exact path we follow is still uncertain, but ideas abound for how we move forward.

Technology will play a big part in the future with more touchless faucets, toilets, doors and windows being integrated into building designs. Even ADA buttons outside of doors will be controlled by sensors. The air we breathe in buildings will be better. Mechanical and HVAC systems will be modified to flush air quicker, and bring in fresh air more often. Looking into the future, kinetics may one day inform the development of surfaces with chemicals embedded into them – surfaces that will not allow anything to stick to them, not even water, and that will kill viruses on contact.

Contractors have all established worksite practices that adhere to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, and those won’t be going away anytime soon, if at all. OSHA will likely perform more workplace inspections – in offices, and on jobsites. Building codes likely will change, though it will take time.

Physical distancing protocols will be considered for all work and gathering places. Hotels will also adjust occupancy capacity in conference spaces, elevators and possibly on guest room floors. Restaurants will decrease capacity, spread out tables, and make a push for more outdoor seating – patrons will be willing to bundle up to dine outside, and restaurateurs will invest more heavily in outdoor heaters.

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