Kelly Kolar, President, Founder and Chief Creative Officer at Kolar Design

In business since 1990, Kolar Design has developed signage, visual-communications and experiential-design programs for healthcare, corporate, civic, and mixed-use spaces, among others. During that span, environmental branding has shifted from providing mere functional information to enriching the atmosphere of its surroundings. In recent times, it has further evolved to create a user experience in a supportive and empathetic way.

With this in mind, the firm’s leadership, Kelly Kolar, Serge Bruylants, and Mary Dietrich, have recently launched the Kolar Experience Institute (KEI) with a core mission to “build a research and insight institute focused on exploring the intersection of people and place in pursuit of finding solutions that create a positive impact for our clients and communities.”

The Institute’s development and the firm’s knowledge of health and wellness has proven a vital resource amid the escalating COVID-19 crisis. As such, it has leveraged its deep knowledge and experience to launch the COVID-19 Compass Return to Premises Solutions Toolkit, which combines several resources for educating employees and providing cues and reminders that reinforce workplace wellness.

The program coalesced through a collaboration between KEI and MYCA Learning, a company that facilitates workplace education; Strategic HR, a firm that manages outsourced human-resources services; and Olivetree Insights, an insights and analytics provider that aided the development of the Compass Survey, the first step of the Toolkit process. The partner firms’ insights played an integral role in crafting its focus and assuring compliance with public-health and legal best practices.

The survey asks a comprehensive battery of questions that measures respondents’ attitudes about the COVID-19 pandemic, their concerns about their employers’ preparedness for overall well-being, and perceptions about coworkers’ responsiveness in complying with illness-prevention best practices. KEI then provides a dashboard to their clients, which helps them better understand workers’ concerns and the challenges overcoming them present.

“Through the data we’ve gathered, we are able to give businesses insights into their employees’ sentiment and perceptions regarding returning to work, and this helps businesses better prepare themselves and develop their plans,” Kolar said. “The survey specifically shows employer readiness and employee sentiment around the three key topics of wellness, safety and workplace attitudes for remote and onsite work.”

To help companies allay and overcome these difficulties, KEI has also prepared a suite of visual-communication products. The signs, which provide a combination of wall-mounted, freestanding, tabletop, and floor graphics, promote physical-distancing guidelines, identify temperature-check stations and other key illness-prevention checkpoints and provide wellness information. To complement this, a desktop floorplan assessment helps to check separation among different locations and identify safe distance-related issues, and specifically outlines the allowable number of individuals in offices, conference rooms, and other gathering spaces.

Employee education plays a vital role in virus containment. An e-learning program serves as the catalyst in helping workers understand their part in supporting workplace wellness. This includes an animated presentation that reinforces essential public-safety and physical-distancing information and then provides testing to verify that employees understand the information provided. The process only requires approximately 15 minutes and provides employers with the security of knowing they have fulfilled their duty of care to educate their teams.

To reinforce the toolkit’s educational process, KEI’s team also created a series of augmented-reality (AR) animations that demonstrate overall best practices for minimizing virus spread. Studies have shown that using AR to convey information stimulates participants and enhances information retention.

“KEI focuses on the intersection of people, process and place,” Kolar said. “With the increased focus on employee wellness and virus prevention, place has become an increasingly important part of the equation. KEI integrates our 30 years of developing brand experiences with architects, designers, business executives and other thought leaders who influence built environments.”