Life Sciences: What Does Re-Opening Look Like in the Lab?


While companies slowly open, architects are busy finding solutions for what may be a new normal in the workplace. One proposal is the “six feet office” concept.

The six feet office includes an array of design features intended to keep coworkers six feet apart from one another. Examples include barriers in between desks, pedestrian lanes that keep the traffic flowing in an orderly and directional way, and disposable supplies to keep the germs from spreading.  The six feet office seems to be a promising scenario to get people back to the office. Yet, many offices are not in position to redesign their space; so how are they coping?

I had the pleasure to interview a research scientist working in a pharmaceutical company in Philadelphia and here is our shared conversation.


1.What are the new protocols implemented in your office since emerging from quarantine?

“With PA in the “green” phase we are returning to near full function, although the way we work has changed.  Those employees (such as lab personnel) whose work requires being physically present have resumed working part-time on campus, while office-based employees continue to work solely from home.  Indeed, only those employees responsible for facilities maintenance and for laboratory studies are authorized for entry.   Working with space planners in the facilities department, the laboratory and office floor plan was mapped into work areas for single person occupancy.   Prior to coming to the campus, lab-based personnel must sign up for one of these individual work areas and for individual office space.   Reserving office space ensures that each scientist has a place to perform computer-based work during long experimental steps where physical presence in the lab may not be required.  Conference rooms are no longer used for traditional purposes but may be reserved as temporary office space.  Upon entry, personnel must don a mask provided at the entrance and check in at the guard station.   The guard will verify authorization and simultaneously perform a forehead temperature scan.  Masks are always required while in the buildings, and bathrooms are now single occupancy.  When the laboratory work is finished, personnel are encouraged to go home to continue other computer-based work as needed.  The general idea is to minimize building occupancy and increase social distancing while continuing critical work.  Work areas are sanitized every night.”


2. How do you feel about going back to work?

“It is great to be busy and active within my profession, and to be generating data toward the discovery of needed therapeutics.  With the various controls ensuring social distancing and the robust cleaning procedures, I am confident in the safety of the work environment.  I do miss the social aspects of work.  I miss the celebratory and team building lunches that won’t resume anytime soon.”


3. How can architects help you during this pandemic?

“Space planning and signage is key right now.  We need to optimize the use of our space to increase laboratory capacity and organize the corridors and signage for efficient movement of people together with maximal social distancing.  More than ever, interior design is needed to project a healthy, stimulating atmosphere.  Optimizing the use of natural lighting is key to achieving a positive vibe and engineering must ensure robust reliable ventilation.  Creative solutions may also improve the work-at-home experience.”


Many companies in our Philadelphia region are delaying their opening and figuring out how to open efficiently and safely. The only thing we know for sure is the office will look different for quite some time, and our job as designers is to create innovative physical distancing solutions that allow for the collaboration and culture that is so important to a company’s identity. How can we support your efforts to get back in the office?


-Myrna Villanueva, Architectural Designer