by Lauren Maggio
As a designer who specializes in healthcare and retail spaces, only in my dreams did I think infection control protocol would become a mainstream topic of conversation across all sectors of design. And now, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, here we are.
Two Steps Forward, Six Feet Apart
In the past few years, banks like Umpqua and Capital One have made community spaces an exciting and important feature in their retail sites. However, now due to Covid-19, the critical need to avoid unnecessary human interaction has prompted me to wonder – what’s going to happen to this marvelous trend? Will mobile banking take over completely? And if so, where will I get a free cup of coffee and lollipops?
Protecting Customers, As Always
In addition to protecting customers from fraud, and low blood sugar (free lollipops), banking institutions with retail locations are taking measures toward making the in-person banking experience as safe as possible. The built environment plays an important role in this effort, now more than ever. In a pre-pandemic world, stickers on the floor saying “please stand here” would seem quite patronizing, but now they are reassuring. Customers take notice of the efforts being made to keep them safe. Doing so instills trust.
We’re using lessons learned from designing healthcare spaces and applying them to address the acute needs of our bank clients. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, but we’re starting to see an interest in designing retail spaces with materials and methods commonly found in health care settings.
Removing non-essential amenities like coffee stations, candy dispensers, lounge seating, and community conference spaces is quick and cost effective. Other efforts to reduce germ transmission include providing hand sanitizing dispensers, repositioning line cue stanchions, limiting occupancy, and installing transparent barriers at face-to-face transaction points.
“Social distancing is the most important thing we have to enforce to protect our workers,” said Darryl Fess, president of Brookline Bank. “Customers can only bring in a certain number of people with them if they are coming to one of our branches. In many of our branches we have already removed the seating areas. We had people who would come in and linger, which we had encouraged. You wanted them there, to like the people and to spend time in the branch.”
We realize that downtime, maintenance, and cost are important considerations for any alteration in the retail setting. Applying products, like antimicrobial films, to existing touch points makes sense when time is of the essence.
It’s Going to Evolve
“We’re still working through it,” said Fess, noting that the chief risk officer is leading the reopening effort. “We are taking a very cautious approach and going with the status quo for the time being. There are still a lot of things to consider.”
I’m optimistic that the dual-purpose design of retail banks is not extinct. Like many industries, companies will be addressing customer’s needs and embracing building technology (lighting systems that disinfect, and HVAC with higher MERV rating, etc.) that will bolster infection control. Doing so will enable them to bring back the human interaction and amenities we’ve grown to enjoy while banking.
Lauren Maggio, NCIDQ, IIDA is a senior interior designer at Margulies Perruzzi, a New England architectural and interior design firm.