Once a vaccine is available and tourists take their first delicate steps back into travel, the physiological effects of the pandemic will ripple through hospitality design. At first these will be amplified and profound - from maintaining guest social distancing to innovations in contact-less check-in. We could potentially finally see the long promised but never delivered smartphone room key access. While it is admirable that there has been a lot of consideration and innovative discussion on this in design and hospitality news, what has mostly been left ignored is design issues for the front-line staff in the properties.

Staff In the Trenches

The life blood of every hotel is the staff. Without our trusted colleagues "in the trenches" there literally is no industry. Much like the medical support teams working in hospitals, we need to ensure safe working conditions to reduce transmission and maintain safe environments for both guests and staff throughout the properties so that they can continue to operate during challenging times.

The Back-of-House (BOH) working areas have long been incorrectly perceived by owners as non-revenue generating spaces. It is through the considerate design of these spaces that fosters a positive working environment, which translates directly into the guest experience. However, over the years these spaces have been systematically reduced from the sizes that they once were in the past. Any quick inspection of an older property will reveal a more generously sized BOH area than we would design today, which were driven by different market factors than we had before the pandemic hit.

Rethinking Shared Space

When our projects return to the drawing boards, shared spaces for staff support areas such as Changing Rooms, Cafeteria, and Offices should benefit from being enlarged so that adequate social distancing can occur. Corridors should be widened (and not be used as ad hoc storage), with air quality and temperature equal to the Front-of-House (FOH) guest areas. These will equate to increased Development costs, but financially they should be seen as a hedge against the next outbreak. No owner or brand wants their resort to gain the notoriety of the Diamond Princess, especially if measures can be put in place to mitigate this.

In order to ensure we have properties that have better safeguards in place, there needs to be a collective push from Governments, Brands, and Designers to create safer environments.

Governments to Play a Role in Post-Covid Design Policy

Governments need to enact legislative corrections to create minimum Gross Floor Area (GFA) proportions between the permissible FOH and BOH developable areas. Within a maximum allowable GFA, a minimum percentage needs to be adopted for BOH area that is proportionate to the FOH area. This way, should the owner wish to "max out" the FOH GFA, the BOH should be sufficiently sized to be able to provide a safe working environment.

Brands should adopt policies requiring owners to develop minimum BOH Support spaces for staff and ensure that Development teams do not dilute this in order to get the deal. While this might end up as a race to the bottom one the psychological ripples of the pandemic subside, there is also an opportunity for brands to position themselves as above the standard in terms of cleanliness and sanitation. Minimum air quality levels and sanitisation in the BOH areas should be raised, to ensure staff and guest safety. Much like environmental consideration in hotels and resorts has moved from niche to being more common, there could also be brands who use this as a way to gain guest trust and loyalty.

Remodelling Back-of-House Movement

Finally, designers need to advocate for more flexible use of BOH space, so that functions can be more evenly dispersed in the BOH instead of being concentrated at various times. This is not just about making the BOH bigger, it needs to also be smarter. Circulation within the BOH needs to be reviewed to ensure that travel distances are as efficient as possible for the various roles. Clustering teams into smaller groups instead of the open office should also be considered. Ensuring that there are multiple locations so staff amenities should also be planned to reduce the concentration of staff using the same facilities. These are only some of many innovations that can be designed to ensure that risk is reduced.

We need to acknowledge that we must design to a new reality. After SARS (2002), MERS (2012), and now Covid-19 (2020), we cannot think of these pandemics as being black swans. These are now cycles that are unfortunately going to be a consequence of our woven global communities that should be anticipated. Through a combination of legislation, brand policy, and design innovation we can develop the next generation of hotels and resorts that provide our colleagues with safe environments, which in turn creates a safer Front of House for our guests to return to.

An article by Paul Wiste