5 Strategies to Create A More Adaptive Healthcare Workspace

The events of the past 18 months have certainly shown that we need to view healthcare workspaces differently, changing our lens to focus on adaptability and flexibility as central drivers to our planning and design efforts.  We need to embrace a mindset that healthcare workspaces should be able to respond to the ever-changing environment and models of patient care delivery.

Among the many learnings gained during the pandemic are the opportunities to reevaluate the need for some in-person work. The shift in demand for corporate office space offers a helpful benchmark.  “Leasing of conventional office space by the health care and education industries totaled 10.3 million sq. ft. in 2020, a 28% decrease from 2019. Although the health care industry’s demand for conventional office space likely will rebound in 2021, recent CBRE analysis suggests remote working could cut the overall need for office space by 15% across all industries.”  However, for work that requires – or benefits most – from staff being on site, there is great value in revisiting the approach to workspace design. As designers, we should look critically at the qualities of the physical work space unique to healthcare.  With a new focus on the healthcare workspaces that support in-person patient care and the well-being of healthcare workers, our challenge is to redefine the physical space needed to support the essential interactions between caregiver and patient.

Here are 5 strategies to create adaptable and flexible workspace for caregivers:

1 – Budget for more technology.  We find technology packages for most construction projects are under-funded, where infrastructure and software often play catch-up to support project needs after the fact.  To be successful, technology must encompass meeting, collaborating, and healthcare specific requirements for telemedicine and medical records.  In short, technology needs to support every interaction we previously had in person.  Robust technology infrastructure is needed to support the new hybrid work environment and the growing volumes of telemedicine encounters.

2 – Build fewer walls and spend less on physical construction.  Drive the highest acuity program into the lowest cost space and keep non-care space as open as possible. This strategy affords flexibility in responding to the next unknown healthcare event, as well as adaptability in providing different healthcare delivery models for caregivers. Space for the work of caregivers and medical teams can be easily configured through modular systems furniture.

3 – Maximize use of prefabrication and modular systems.  This strategy provides more quality and speed to market during construction and future adaptability. There is a bell curve of the value created from use of prefabricated modular components, and the objective is to land at the highest point of the curve. That is the point between smaller components that don’t result in efficiencies and large-scale modularization that doesn’t fit the project budget. The goal is to right-size prefabrication and modular opportunities in the range that offers the greatest value for speed to market, efficiency, flexibility and long-term reuse.

4 – Be smarter and more efficient with caregiver space.  The needs of healthcare teams are dynamic and space planning needs to be similarly resilient and smart. The workspace needs to be varied and promote chance interactions, dialogue and collaboration. The physical environment should support different types of work: heads-down focus, small team huddles and larger multi-team collaboration to share information on diagnosis and treatment. Choice and adaptability are essential and variety is needed as follows:

– Variety in room type and size, with adequate technology to support different use scenarios.
– Variety in enclosure to establish different levels of privacy.
– Variety in acoustic and visual connectivity to either moderate or encourage interaction.

5 – Invest in spaces for staff respite.  Spending more of the project budget on larger, higher quality spaces for healthcare staff and providing amenities will pay off with increased staff satisfaction and productivity.  Designate spaces where staff can disengage, rejuvenate and truly take a break.  Typically, staff space accounts for less than 3% of the overall program, so added costs at this scale will not significantly impact overall project budget.

Using these strategies will create flexible and adaptable workspaces that can respond to changes in patient care delivery and physical space needs.  The best outcomes are realized when the spaces we plan and design are an extension of the individuals using them and support their experience.

Scott Gosnell, AIA

Scott Gosnell, AIA

Principal | Vice President | Senior Project Manager


Mr. Gosnell has been with Zimmerman for nearly 20 years, having joined the firm shortly after earning his Master’s Degree in Architecture from the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. Before exclusively concentrating his professional efforts on healthcare facility projects, his main areas of focus were in the firm’s healthcare and hospitality project categories. This unique combination of experience has resulted in projects that embody an environment of care that values patient experience in quality, brand, convenience, and amenities as well as staff efficiency and well-planned spaces. He leads a team of healthcare planning and design experts who are focused and well versed in evidence-based design, Lean healthcare design principles, and biophilic design.


Experiencing NeoCon 2021

From left to right: Maddie Frestedt, Jeanne Anton, Amanda Brown, Natalie Abel, Yessica Sanchez

Earlier this month, five of our architectural technicians traveled to the Merchandise Mart in Chicago to attend NeoCon.  Designed to inspire and inform, the event showcases ideas, products and services for the built environment including furniture, fabrics, flooring, interior building products, interior finishes and technology.

But why would architectural technicians, who are not interior designers, attend NeoCon? It started with an interest to learn more said Maddie, “We were interested to see another side of our industry. To learn about new products and the design thinking behind the product development.” All of the women agree that having the opportunity to learn and grow in their careers unlocks their individual potential.

They shared a few of their takeaways from the event:

How much time did you spend at NeoCon?  Was it enough? 

Amanda:  We were there for one day.  I would definitely spend 2 days there next year.  It was my first time attending and it was much larger than I expected.

Natalie:  I feel like we saw more than I was expecting to because it was less crowded than previous years.  We were able to visit most of the showrooms we wanted to see.

What trends and themes did you see?

Maddie:  Many showrooms and products focused on creating work environments with amenities.  We saw a lot of sit to stand desks and privacy solutions.  Furniture that had technology features like built in wireless charging was also featured.

Amanda:  We saw a lot of bright colors used in the products and designs.  Using green walls and plants to decorate spaces was also a trend.

Yessica:  And offering a fun environment to make people want come to the office, and providing amenities that you don’t have while working from home – like a ping pong table.

Jeanne:  A lot of products featured materials and surfaces that are easy to clean in response to COVID-19.

Which showroom was your favorite?

Yessica:  We had fun in the Extremis furniture showroom, we really liked their products.  We thought the design of their outdoor picnic table was really innovative, it was designed to be easy to sit on unlike a typical bench seat.  Their employees’ outfits matched the nature theme of the showroom, we thought that was a fun idea.

Jeanne:  We learned a lot about how carpet is designed and manufactured in the Mohawk showroom.  It was really interesting to hear the inspiration and design process behind the patterns and colors since carpet is something we use in all projects.

Which product designs stood out to you the most? 

Natalie:  I really appreciated the design behind some of the Extremis products. It’s a firm based in Belgium and they put a lot of thought into aesthetic, durability and intention. Their outdoor tables are designed to be more accessible for people who might have a disability or difficulty stepping over a typical bench to sit down – such conscious inclusion is not always considered in the design process. For Extremis, this integration is a common practice, making their products more inclusive for all users.


Were there any items that you would recommend to a client? 

Maddie:  We think an outdoor table or seating would be great to have for eating lunch and having casual meetings outside.  And the sliding whiteboard was cool, I think they would be great in huddle spaces.

Jeanne:  We tried a soundproof booth, it would be good for acoustics and private phone calls.  But the glass panels made it feel a little like being in a fishbowl.

Would you recommend attending this event?

Amanda:  NeoCon is a great way to learn more about the markets we work in, but also to learn about products used in other markets that we could apply to our projects.

Jeanne:  I would recommend attending NeoCon.  It was a good opportunity to see products in person that I don’t typically get to use in my own projects but wanted to learn more about.

Maddie:  Yes, I recommend it.  It’s so big that you can look for specific products or just browse and explore like we did.  And I got a really nice tote bag from one of the vendors.

Natalie:  Yes, NeoCon brings people and ideas together under one roof. It’s great to see the innovation companies are promoting and what new features and products are available to designers and the opportunity to network is done in a fun and exciting atmosphere.

Yessica:  It was my first-time attending NeoCon and I really enjoyed it.   It was a good way to expand our knowledge and spend time with each other outside of the office.  It’s also a great way to network with people from around the country.

We hope to see you in June 2022 at NeoCon!

Workplace Amenities for Healthcare Staff

As we navigate the changing workplace with our healthcare clients in our current projects, I have been thinking a lot about the importance of amenities.  Healthcare can be a rewarding but challenging field, so supporting staff through workplace design and amenities is even more important now.  An article I recently read resonated with me:  “It’s all about investing in resources that remove friction from employees’ day. In other words, the best workplace amenities are the ones your employees hardly even notice – and ideally won’t remember.”   It made me start thinking about amenities that make the work day easier so healthcare staff can focus on patient care.

The most important amenities of all are the most basic ones.  Recent studies show that employees environmental features like fresh air, access to natural light and thermal comfort value the most.  I found this study reported in the Harvard Business Review really interesting:

“Surprisingly, we found employees want the basics first: better air quality, access to natural light, and the ability to personalize their workspace. Half of the employees we surveyed said poor air quality makes them sleepier during the day, and more than a third reported up to an hour in lost productivity as a result. In fact, air quality and light were the biggest influencers of employee performance, happiness, and wellbeing, while fitness facilities and technology-based health tools were the most trivial.”

For many years, employers have been focusing on providing features such as fitness centers or advanced technology as amenities.  What this study shows is we need to address the work environment first.  At the Zimmerman Architectural Studios office, bipolar ionization units were installed on our air handlers to improve the indoor air quality.  The intent of these devices is to ionize any particles (including viruses like Covid) so they attract neutrally charged particles in the air.  The particles then become too heavy to “float” in the air and fall to the floor.  Solutions like adding ionization units or changing air filters more frequently can help improve the indoor air quality and in turn improve employee health and satisfaction.  Once we have provided healthcare staff with an optimal physical environment, then we should focus on other features they value.

As healthcare facilities vary, so do the types of amenities that their staff desire.  In our large academic medical center projects, clinical staff who work at multiple locations often don’t have a permanent office or have an office located across campus.  For this type of healthcare worker, it is important to have amenities convenient to the clinical space where they work with patients.  Bringing resources to staff will remove the friction from their day and increase their satisfaction.

It’s important to make taking breaks and eating meals convenient for staff who have a busy day of patient care.  We should create spaces that allow staff to balance work and life while allowing camaraderie and collaboration to occur.  Another important space to locate adjacent to the clinical work area are lounge and respite spaces.  We have heard from many clients they see an increase in staff using respite spaces and plan on adding more rooms.

Once we have addressed the environmental and space needs for healthcare staff, we can then focus on providing service amenities.  If you are a healthcare administrator, this is a great time to survey your staff to find out what services they would really appreciate.  Providing amenities that staff value helps improve satisfaction and retention.  We can probably agree most people don’t use dry cleaning pick-up services much now.  Instead, let’s think about services remove friction from the work for busy healthcare staff:

  • Ready-made meals that staff can pick up from the cafeteria to take home
  • On-site childcare that makes drop-off and pick-up easy
  • Easy access to support services including mental health counseling
  • Opportunities to get outside such as walking trails where staff can fit in a quick exercise break or a walking meeting
  • Lockers rooms and showers for staff who walk or bike to work

Designing a healthy environment with good air quality and access to daylight is the foundation of a good workplace.  Once the foundation is set, then we can focus on creating spaces and opportunities that allow healthcare staff to balance their work and life, to take a breath and release the tension. Supporting the emotional and physical health of healthcare staff through work place amenities is critical for the entire healthcare organization.  Showing healthcare staff that they are valued goes a long way to improve satisfaction and retention.

Wendy Schultz, IIDA, IFMA

Wendy Schultz, IIDA, IFMA

Programming | Space Planning | Interior Design


Ms. Schultz specializes in programming, space planning and interior design. She will interface with the architectural design team and client in analyzing and testing space interrelationships and departmental adjacencies. She will also participate in the development of any interior design required for assignments which may result from the planning effort.  She will focus on the client’s needs and ensure a quick, efficient turnaround.