Hotel and Office Design After Covid-19

As we adapt to living and working while the pandemic continues, the question becomes about legacy. Will Covid-19 leave a significant lasting legacy on the design of our working environment, or will it simply be a case of reigniting temporary measures whenever needed?


Heinrich Böhm, partner of JOI-Design

Heinrich Böhm is senior designer and partner at JOI-Design, one of Germany’s leading hospitality interior design companies. In this instalment of our International Voice of the Customer interview series, Heinrich reveals that the pandemic has had a major impact on business, but that things are returning to normal.

Our main business is in the hotel industry and despite the difficult conditions, we’ve completed and opened on five hotels this year. With the world premiere of Stay KooooK in Berlin, as well as a new long-stay concept for Capri by Fraser in Leipzig, the mix includes some trend-setting destinations. Currently, we’re working on the new head office for Olympus in Hamburg, an office complex in Düsseldorf, hotel projects in the Baltics and India, and even a couple of cruise ships.

JOI Design-Heinrich Böhm-Me and All-Kiel-Christian Kretschmar
JOI Design-Heinrich Böhm-Moxy-Hamburg-Christian Kretschmar

What impact has Covid-19 had on your business?

The hotel industry has been one of the hardest hit but during recent years we’ve diversified to different sectors which has given us a degree of resilience. Like most businesses we’ve faced adversity and Covid-19 has undoubtedly had a major impact.

That said, what’s really pleased us was the close communication we’ve had with customers. We were all nervous and nobody knew for certain what would happen next. We found the honesty and sincerity expressed during communication all the more reassuring, even if some customers seemed to disappear at the start for a while. As far as projects were concerned, there were various models. On the one hand, some simply carried on as before, others were put on hold or continued at a slower pace, while some were stopped or cancelled altogether.

However, we’ve also managed to land new projects in offices, hotels, long-stay and serviced apartments. We’ve also found new opportunity in aged care and retirement homes and see this as a key growth area in the future.

From an internal perspective, it’s amazing how quickly we’ve adapted to working from home, but we were also quick to set up an internal shift and rotor system so that colleagues could return to the workplace. We thrive on the exchange of experiences, team spirit, the materials in our archive and small-scale brainstorming sessions, so it was important we did whatever we could to maintain this culture. We intend to keep this system and offer a similar balance for our employees in the future.

Of course, none of us are travelling as much with meetings, events and conferences all held online. Great for nature and the climate, it’s also beneficial to the business and we’ve noticed it has brought genuine time savings on some projects. Nevertheless, we don’t believe that anything will ever replace the value of face-to-face exchanges.

Are you seeing clients approach you with worries about the long-term feasibility of their space because of the pandemic?

To be honest, no. Of course, we’re talking to customers about how room dividers can be integrated in a way that’s pleasing and the subject has come up more often in the hospitality sector than in offices. However, even before the pandemic our projects often involved us having to divide up large areas into individual functional spaces. So, it’s not a fundamentally new task for hotel designers and the spatial solutions are already in place.

Are clients concerned with how best to adapt spaces beyond the adoption of stick-on vinyl graphics and perspex screens, or are they looking at the fundamental design of the space?

We always take care of the basic design of the whole space on a project, but naturally short-term solutions may well be required based on specific requirements. The most important thing is to create an inviting atmosphere, even with safety measures in place. In the long-term it will be a matter of evaluating, fathoming out and taking a cautious approach to requirements in order to strike the right balance. As these requirements are sure to change over time, it’s really hard to predict what the long-term changes will be.

How important will the selection of materials be? Do you expect to embrace a new wave of anti-bacterial finishes, or is it simply about making sure sanitisation is easily accessible?

Being easy to clean is just as important as durability and the all-important feel-good factor. However, the pandemic has certainly presented opportunity to rethink and adjust the functionality of materials. We’re not saying that everything will suddenly be made washdown, but there will be an increased focus in materials that feel natural and authentic, perhaps locally sourced and with a sustainable record.

We prefer natural effect finishes rather than original materials, because they can be cleaned easily but still offer an important organic look. High-touch surfaces can always be covered with sheets of glass to keep them spotless and easy to clean. If there are a lot of smooth and cold surfaces, it’s important to counteract them by introducing different floor coverings, plants, bookshelves or divider systems.

As far as hygiene is concerned, it is important to opt for creative, design-orientated solutions that radiate a sense of security yet also look stylish. Touch-free sensor controls will also be used more and more.

Has there been a fundamental shift in our approach to workspaces? Will we see a more human approach to space on the part of the customer or will it be a matter of returning to a maximum headcount?

There is fundamental change in the focus of office design. It is no longer just about collaboration and sharing: the social distancing we have learned to live with will be extended to our lives in offices and reflected in the way they are set up.

Working from home has now become established and proven successful in many sectors. It’s a welcome option that does away for the need for the same levels of space as before in many instances. The option of private retreats – think tanks, telephone boxes – is already present in new work concepts recently introduced. In future, such places will be used much more to make distancing physically palpable – my own private space!

However, these spaces should not be designed as locations huddled in the centre of a building, but rather against the façade, so that good light and ventilation are present.

What is the most important thing that you have learned with regard to the design of workspaces due to the pandemic?

It’s not just one thing, but many.

We have to be able to reconfigure multi-use areas into extended distancing spaces quickly and easily. We’ll also need to establish clear routes through the building. These can be established extremely effectively using visual elements such as different coloured carpets, other floor coverings and wall designs. It’s clear that stairs will experience a renaissance: people have to stand together while waiting for lifts and that should be avoided. Guidance systems support this approach. Rethinking infrastructure is an exciting challenge that we’ll be devoting more time to in the future.

The use of multifunctional furniture and technical systems that enable distances to be increased between seats in workspaces will become common. The advantage of this is that the office becomes agile, continuously adapting to suit requirements or circumstance.

A high demand for meeting and conference rooms will remain a growing factor in future concepts. These rooms are essential for strengthening personal relationships and trust among colleagues, while also allowing a certain degree of intimacy during confidential client discussions. The meeting room will become the human exchange platform and create a counterbalance to virtual meeting and collaboration. 

We doubt these rooms will become even more visibly high-tech. Instead, they will have to be made more comfortable and reassuring to convey the human, intimate component of their creation. In the best-case scenario, voice control will be integrated intelligently and invisibly for no apparent influence from technology.

Clever designs for safety and health-related measures will also make an appearance. This protection has become quickly and fully established in the retail sector, so why shouldn’t office reception staff be afforded the same protection?

Co-working will be used my more and more companies as a flexible, alternative space. Demand from businesses of all sizes for co-working space is on the rise yet the same challenges of restrictions apply here too. It’s no longer feasible to have three changeovers per day because of hygiene, but this could be solved by paper desk covers that can be picked up from a dispenser.

Lastly, it’s not only the working part of office life that’s been impacted by Covid-19. We are having to rethink the design strategy in breakout and catering areas in order to focus on safety-related and health promoting measures.

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Photo credits: Christian Kretschmar & Jenner Egberts


JOI Design-Heinrich Böhm-logo-Hamburg

JOI Design-Heinrich Böhm-Stay Kooook-Bern-Christian Kretschmar
JOI Design-Heinrich Böhm-Le Meridien Conference Center-Hamburg-Jenne Egberts