Creating flexible commercial environments for a post-lockdown world

Commercial environments such airports, convention spaces, hotels, offices, malls and other commercial spaces are empty, lying dormant due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Inevitably, we are all looking forward to the time when these spaces magically open up, and everything immediately returns to normal – right!?

Not really. There will be an arduous period of months and even perhaps years where society will have to adapt, operating in a different way to what we we’re all used to. The managers of these facilities will have to deal with a number of new operational challenges, not least of which is how to safely and calmly welcome visitors and customers back in a way that creates confidence.

One important aspect of this reintegration will be the ability to adapt to new social norms and rules that will differ from environment to environment. The way information is communicated will be a critical element to gradual recovery. How does an airport ensure social distancing while also getting people through security then on safely to their gates on time? How will schools direct students around campus such that large congregations are avoided? How do we transition from being isolated in our own homes, to dealing with crowds?

Environmental signage is critical to ensure that we provide this peace-of-mind. As we move forward, rules and guidance will need to adapt to this new ‘world’. There will be a new, different directives to provide to our customers each day, week or month. Our accepted ways of moving people around the space will no longer be valid, they’ll no longer be fixed. It will be challenging for owners and unsettling for customers if not handled well.

Journeys must remain largely frictionless if we’re going to convince people that it’s safe to re-enter public environments. EGD will be at the forefront of this communication challenge. Every designer will be contacted by clients and asked to develop new, smart strategies. The success or failure of such strategies will be driven not only by the ideas provided by designers, but also the set of tools that can be provided to their clients.

Flexibility and clarity will be the front line of visitor communication and wayfinding. Delivering the required flexibility is where digital solutions come to the forefront. In constantly changing environments, it is going to be critical to have the ability to change information and wayfinding on the fly, while still providing a connected experience that makes sense. Implementing temporary vehicular digital signage, for example, will help spread drop-offs and ease rideshare congestion. Chances are, that existing resources will not handle the workload alone, creating an opportunity for experiential designers to explore new solutions. How can digital and physical signage be added, and still be part of one consistent and connected system? How can we integrate, but still manage it all from one place?

At PAM, our intelligent wayfinding platform is being deployed on the front lines of this impending challenge. Dynamic digital signage gives facility managers in commercial environments the ability to instantly change routes throughout the facility. 3D maps on devices and kiosks provide information on the best routes through the facility and adapt to environmental changes such as visitor density, to provide safer journeys for visitors. Existing digital signage that’s currently used for advertising or flight data can be redeployed to assist wayfinding, while physical signage can be updated to reflect a more flexible environment.

Transitioning back to full-scale will take time. How long that takes will be the result of how successfully our commercial buildings and precincts transition to providing an environment that’s safe, easy to understand and adaptive. Visitors can’t wait to come back, they just need to be assured that when they do, they’re in an environment that’s going to help them get where they’re going as safely as possible.

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