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Will Post-COVID Life Require Changes to Community and Neighborhood Design?

The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way we live, work, and play, and even as vaccines become standard and life begins to return to normal, some changes are permanent. In many ways, the pandemic ushered in changes that were already coming — like the influx of remote work and the convenience of curbside pickup. As we look ahead, understanding how these changes will impact infrastructure needs will help build better communities for the future. While it's unlikely that widespread changes in infrastructure design will be mandated, developers are likely to want to make them — with the following being some key examples of how communities may look different.

New infrastructure will be built to accommodate the sustained popularity of curbside pickup

Long before the days of the pandemic, consumers were enthusiastically embracing the convenience of low-touch processes, like doorstep deliveries and curbside order pickup. The arrival of the pandemic helped rapidly accelerate the adoption of these services — and they're here to stay. Right now, curbside pickup is very much in its infancy. So, to accommodate the growing implementation and use of curbside pickup, stores will need to build new infrastructure. Beyond reserved parking spaces with a sign saying "call us," stores will realize a need for branded kiosks, self-service locker systems, and other developments that will make the customer experience more enjoyable.

With more working from home, parking lots will be smaller

While we might need to make room for curbside pickup at restaurants and stores, parking lots at office buildings will likely get smaller thanks to the increased number of people working remotely. It's been predicted that 70% of the workforce will be working remotely at least part of the time, representing a "hybrid" work schedule, and some will remain completely remote. The technological implications of moving to hybrid and remote work are still being debated, but the infrastructure accommodations are much clearer: With fewer people heading to the office each day, commercial lots won't need to dedicate as much room to parking spaces.

At the office, a reversal of communal trends may take place

Prior to the pandemic, many offices were moving towards the modern trend of minimalism and communal property. Countless businesses ditched cubicles and assigned desks to make room for comfortable seating around shared tables and collaborative work areas. However, beyond the potential need for continued social distancing and limiting high-touch surfaces, a hybrid workforce means changes are coming. Post-COVID, office infrastructure is likely to implement more physical barriers, such as glass screens, between customers and workers. We may also see collaborative work spaces take a step back towards dedicated desk areas. More than likely, though, the focus on collaboration will move away from face-to-face meetings. Instead, rooms that allow remote and on-site workers to interact in new ways, such as with the use of virtual and augmented reality, will likely take center-stage.

Store and restaurant designs will seek to limit dwell time

Gone are the days when stores used to try to keep customers inside for as long as possible through strategic product placement and layout. Aside from the consumer focus on speed and convenience, which has helped make online and curbside ordering so popular, the post-COVID lifestyle will likely call for innovations in store and restaurant design. Before the pandemic, some fast-food chains like Chile's and Applebee's were already using kiosks to allow diners to order without going to the counter or while sitting down at their table. Beyond the implementation of self-service systems, which limit interaction and can reduce staffing needs, restaurants are also likely to re-think layouts. The expansion to patios and outdoor areas is here to stay, and the addition of walkup windows is likely to limit the need for entry. Inside stores, a similar trend can be expected, but it will involve more than boosting the number of self-service checkouts. Amazon's revolutionary "cashier less" store design may become the new normal as other brands begin implementing their own versions of the technology, even in bits and pieces.

Innovations in healthcare facilities will accommodate quick and easy booster shots

With the likelihood that booster shots will become standard, already strained healthcare facilities will need to be upgraded and expanded. Pharmacy chains and other outlets that are offering vaccines will also have the need for new infrastructure to accommodate demand. Vaccine distribution infrastructure will likely come in the form of drive-thru and drive-up facilities, which enable a quick in-and-out process that reduces interaction time and touch points. A check-in kiosk, for example, can identify the patient in the system to direct the appropriate type of booster shot, and the same facilities can be used for administering other vaccines, too. Healthcare facilities, in general, are expected to require new infrastructure in light of concerns and shortcomings revealed throughout the pandemic. For instance, hospitals are likely to invest in designs that allow for quick resource deployment or expansion to accommodate for surges in demand, while being more robust than the pop-up tents many had to turn to during the height of the pandemic. Are you interested in learning more about post-COVID developments and innovations in construction and civil engineering? Consult Engineering Surveys & Services for more information. 

Image Credits: QRSMagazine @Creative Commons

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