For helping companies use data to bring people back to the office—safely
People aren’t going to work from their couches and dining room tables forever: A May 2020 survey of 8,000 professional employees across eight countries found they wanted to spend at least part of the time in an office. Yet as business leaders contemplated a return to office spaces, it was unclear how to mesh safety—staggered schedules, temperature scanners, limited elevator occupancy, plastic dividers—with collaboration. How do you redesign workplaces to keep employees safe—and make them feel safe—without creating forbidding fortresses?
To fill the knowledge gap, global design and architecture firm Gensler released a tool called ReRun that uses generative algorithms to plan office occupancy. Created with just three weeks of dev time, the system works by importing a company’s existing floor plans, then overlaying social distancing bubbles that space out employees in ways that align with government health and safety requirements. The algorithm can be adjusted and updated as requirements change.
“It’s remarkable how quickly we needed to pivot toward a new reality,” says Gensler analytics director and principal Wes LeBlanc. “The typical tools available for evaluating supply and demand of office environments were insufficient.”
ReRun can test hundreds of different scenarios in real time to identify the optimal work arrangements, depending on the number of employees, the capacity targets and the shape, size and layout of the workspaces. And it doesn’t have to mean a complete overhaul. In its testing, the team demonstrated that even densely packed office plans can typically accommodate a 50 percent return of staff without significant modifications.
Following a pilot launch in April, the team spent the next month gathering and integrating feedback from internal client-relationship leaders as well as analytics and workplace-design experts on how the tool worked in real life.
“ReRun is a quantitative tool and is somewhat agnostic toward the ultimate arrangement of the built environment. The distancing math and optimization drive the outputs,” says LeBlanc. “But just because something can mathematically work doesn’t mean it’s a good solution, particularly when you consider human behavior.”
This extensive feedback fueled later sprints to refine the algorithm’s approach to elements like foot traffic circulation and specialized spaces, like huddle rooms and breakout areas. Perhaps most importantly, the team layered an extra step into the tech solution: human intervention.
“Each automated deliverable gets a design review—a set of human eyes that can account for the nuances of workplace experience, culture and workstyles, as well as the functional aspects of the space,” says Eric Gannon, regional technology workplace leader and principal at Gensler’s Chicago office.
Clients across North America and Europe have put the new tool to work, analyzing approximately 20 million square feet (1.86 million square meters) of space. “The future of the office must evolve,” Gannon says. “We’ve always seen ReRun as very much a bridge to a more permanent post-COVID reality.”