Bourouiba Research Group will work with Steelcase to understand how the workplace can help mitigate disease transmission.
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich., June 25, 2020 — Steelcase today announces its collaboration with MIT professor and disease transmission specialist Dr. Lydia Bourouiba of the Bourouiba Research Group at MIT to study disease transmission in the workplace. Bourouiba specializes in fluid dynamics and understanding properties of turbulent gas clouds that are produced when people exhale, sneeze or cough and how that spreads respiratory pathogens. The goal of the research is to not only understand how these pathogens spread in typical office layouts, but also to develop design strategies for how to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and other illnesses at work.
Steelcase will be working with Dr. Bourouiba to conduct laboratory testing on furniture configurations and materials to determine the best combinations for reducing the spread of aerosols. The work will happen over a series of phases beginning with evaluating current configurations to determine how density (the number of people in a space), geometry (changing the configuration of the furniture) and division (adding boundaries and barriers between people) can create safer spaces. This testing will be able to immediately benefit organizations by providing best practices to assist in retrofitting or reconfiguring existing workplaces. In future phases, the teams will focus on advanced mitigation strategies supported by scientific research and mathematical algorithms to inform better workplace designs.
While many employees are currently working from home due to the COVID-19 crisis, the vast majority, 88-90%* want to work in an office again. In order for employees to return though, the workplace must be safe. Steelcase data about the most common office configurations among its global customers shows that 98% of seats in the office will be at risk. This means these settings do not have either 6 feet of distance between the next closest employee or a space divider that is 54 inches high. Workplaces that were designed to foster creativity and innovation now must be reimagined to help mitigate the spread of disease.
“The workplace is essential to drive growth, build culture, and fuel innovation. So getting people back into the workplace is critical to help jump start the economy,” said Allan Smith, vice president of global marketing for Steelcase. “Organizations want to bring people back to offices that are compelling, but also safe. Our work with Dr. Bourouiba is critical to understanding how pathogens travel through enclosed environments like the workplace and how we can design spaces that mitigate the spread of disease, helping people to be safer at work.”
Dr. Bourouiba and her team at MIT combine multiple disciplines to study the spread of disease, revealing the mechanics of how sneezes and coughs help transmit everything from the common cold to coronavirus. Her research on fluid dynamics has helped inform COVID-19 policies and her 2018 TEDMED talk has been viewed more than 12,000 times.
“Our mission is to apply our scientific discoveries to positively impact public health,” says Dr. Lydia Bouriba. “The opportunity to work with Steelcase, the global leader in workplace solutions, is exciting because it allows us to amplify our work to mitigate the spread of disease at a larger scale and maximize the number of safe workspaces around the world.”
Steelcase and Dr. Bourouiba hope to publish their initial findings by later summer 2020.
About Steelcase Inc.
For over 108 years, Steelcase Inc. has helped create great experiences for the world’s leading organizations, across industries. We demonstrate this through our family of brands – including Steelcase®, Coalesse®, Designtex®, Turnstone®, Smith System®, Orangebox® and AMQ®. Together, they offer a comprehensive portfolio of architecture, furniture and technology products and services designed to unlock human promise and support social, economic and environmental sustainability. We are globally accessible through a network of channels, including over 800 Steelcase dealer locations. Steelcase is a global, industry-leading and publicly traded company with fiscal 2020 revenue of $3.7 billion.
* According to Gensler U.S. Work From Home Survey 2020 and Cushman & Wakefield The Future of Workplace 2020