How might we create a feeling of safety in the post pandemic world? – research highlights studying people’s behavior and attitudes in Covid-19


Roughly one year ago the old normal, like how we use buildings and what kind of buildings we use or who we interact with and in what ways, was radically changed. Covid-19 forced both individuals and businesses to rethink their life and operations. What we used to know as normal, became abnormal in one night. In KEKO, we wanted to take a deeper look into diverse people’s worries, fears, and attitudes to understand better what could be done to help people to feel safe again in the built environment. In collaboration with the service design agency Hellon, KONE conducted a user research on how people’s behavior has changed and how they see the future. In total, the research was conducted in seven countries: qualitative research in Finland and quantitative research in Netherlands, Germany, France, Singapore, China, and US.

New routines in everyday life

The pandemic touched people differently depending on their living situation, occupation etc. Thus, many everyday life routines changed. People found alternative ways to work and utilize spaces as lock downs turned homes into offices, schools and spaces for hobbies and other activities.

41% (N=5963) of the respondents in the quantitative study had their living arrangements affected by the Covid-19. The general needs were towards a bigger apartment and location further from the city, although contrasting results were also seen. These are interesting results when reflecting on global mega trends like urbanization. One could think that the pandemic has made citizens to rethink their life choices and living environment. When it comes to commuting, 45% of respondents faced changes in their commute. The most common change was the increased usage of a private car. This obviously challenges for example the ongoing shift towards sustainable and shared mobility.

Due to lock downs and remote working, 77% of the respondents said that their visits in public spaces have been affected by the pandemic. When visiting any public spaces, hygiene products, namely hand sanitizers and masks, as well as safety distances between people are seen the most important factors to feel safe.


Work life will not be the same

Roughly half (54%) of the respondents have been working remotely at least partly during the pandemic. Remote working is here to stay as only 28% of the remote workers estimate that they will return working fully from an office after the pandemic. However, remote working raises mixed feelings, and, in some cases, there are more disadvantages than perceived advantages. Saved time due to lack of commuting and flexibility to choose a preferred location for working are great benefits. Remote meetings are proved to be efficient and companies have the possibility to grow with existing office spaces and thus save costs. On the other hand, lack of human interaction and socialisation, poor ergonomics, and lack of proper physical tools in the home office cause tiredness towards remote working.

Obviously, remote working is not possible in all professions and the pandemic has changed responsibilities and tasks. For example, receptionists, restaurant workers, and cleaning staff have adopted new ways of working. Small parcels are being left in the reception to avoid outsiders visiting the premises and lost&found items are touched only with gloves which was not even thought of before. As lunch meetings almost disappeared, restaurants started to provide take away food also in office premises. Especially for those, who are exposed to risks due to their profession, it is burdening to think about the pandemic and its risks constantly. Nevertheless, everyone’s wellbeing is being tested due to the pandemic, regardless of their nature of work.


Designing for feeling of safety

Many employers and companies are currently thinking how to ensure people’s safe return to offices and back to other services. In the research, we found out what kind of factors affect the feeling of safety. It is important to remember that both psychological and perceived safety as well as physical and environmental actors affect people’s overall feeling of safety. The study shows that people are sensitive towards other people’s behaviour and and that it affects them in different ways. In addition, people react very emotionally when their life and freedom is restricted or at risk.

As people’s expectations and standards towards hygiene have raised, clean and maintained surfaces have very high influence on how safe people feel. With clear instructions and and transparent communication of the safety procedures done in the building companies can enhance people’s feeling of safety. For example, reorganizing office interiors to be more spacious and offer more room to move and operate freely increases employees’ feeling of safety and thus, wellbeing.

Many smart building solutions, such as air quality sensors, touchless interfaces, and personalized spaces, might already exist but now their role has become even more important. Differing user needs should be highlighted even more in the future so that we can design built environments where the new normal starts feeling safe and normal.

In the next blog post under the Covid-theme, we share an example how the pandemic has affected the ways of working in KEKO.

Reetta Turtiainen

KONE / Business design specialist