Staff working wearing a mask Staff working wearing a mask

Returning to work after coronavirus

Adapting your environment for safe and productive operation
Adapting your environment for safe and productive operation

As the coronavirus replication number drops, countries are cautiously restarting economic activities. Every organisation has their own needs and priorities, but some common questions are being asked: will it be safe? Is it time to reimagine how and where we work? How many people should return? Will it be as productive? What can we do to make our workplaces more resilient to future shocks? And what happens if we re-enter lockdown?

As designers and engineers of every type of built environment, and as advisors to businesses in every sector, we’ve developed a comprehensive return-to-workplace methodology. One that takes clients beyond immediate needs and prepares them for more resilient operations in this changing world. We can help you to assess your existing locations and environments, establish the risks, and transition to a safe and productive workplace.

Addressing the following three priorities in a joined-up way will help you prepare and stay on the front foot in what is likely to remain a developing set of issues.

Priority 1: workplace safety

Safety is the number one consideration for any organisation considering a return to workplace during a pandemic. While it’s impossible to eliminate the risks associated with the spread of a virus, there are many steps that organisations can take to help mitigate them.

Clients typically ask us the following questions as we work with them to tailor a solution to their individual workplace and organisational needs:

Build confidence


Ensuring safety

Building confidence

Arup’s Neuron building intelligence system offers AI-powered thermal imaging for temperature screening. This means you can carry out real-time mass screening and manage the health and safety of your employees and visitors.

Find out more about Neuron

Smart buildings: how a virus might lead to healthier buldings

Manage occupancy

Ensuring safety

Manage occupancy

Our Space Explorer solution models human behaviour, identifies interaction points and allows you to plan a workplace that meets social distancing guidelines. This is valuable as organisations attempt to return to normal levels of occupancy and productivity.

Find out more about Arup Space Explorer

Priority 2: productivity

Workplaces are more than somewhere to put your laptop. Once you’ve defined a plan for safe operations, there’s the question of productivity. Successful organisations thrive on human interaction and collaboration – even though productivity has risen from homeworking, social isolation has wellbeing implications and stifles creativity. You need a plan to ramp up occupancy safely while nurturing productive interactions and working.

Arup's Melbourne office - we provided design and engineering services for One Melbourne Quarter, setting a benchmark for leading workplace design.

We can help your reimagine your workplace. This could include open plan communal areas which enable project workshops and social gatherings. In other cases, it can mean rapidly reconfiguring workplaces into pods of workers focused on short-term business critical activities such as projects and strategies. 

In all cases we blend our practical architectural design capabilities (including social distancing considerations), with the psychological or human factor elements to optimise the function of workplaces.

Contact us to discuss your redesign programme

Priority 3: adaptation

Business models are changing. Now more than ever, you need to be able to respond to changes in demand, stay on top of assets and real estate, and control costs. For many digital companies, the pandemic recovery has been rapid with a move to even higher levels of productivity and profitability through a combination of increased digital enablement supported by an already agile, flexible workforce. For other less resilient businesses whose revenue streams rely on human interactions, the new normal will be radically different than previous business as usual. We have been helping some of these businesses to reimagine their assets’ purpose.

The space offered by airports offers a wealth of potential when it comes to refocusing their use as an asset during challenging times for the aviation industry

New purposes for airport assets

After decades of growth, the global aviation sector has been dramatically challenged by the pandemic. We are helping airport operators to refocus assets, decoupling value from their original purpose to new medium term functions and revenue generation. As spaces they have great potential: vaccination hubs, testing centres, drive-in cinemas, warehouses, food farms, distribution centres, manufacturing areas, additional freight support, contact-less drone ports, and many others.

Discover how we're helping transport providers adapt

Our methodology works at three levels: rapid low-cost adaptations; finding medium-term alternative functions and revenue streams; and beyond the current crisis, we explore how the core assets could be adapted, re-used and drive new revenue. Our ethos reconceptualises your asset, providing your business with improved agility should further crises occur in future.