Settled into home offices and work-from-home (WFH) setups for the long haul, returning to work in an office tower may feel unimaginable. The day will come, however, when workers return to office spaces shared with in-the-flesh (as opposed to on-the-Zoom) colleagues. Office organizers and designers are already working to answer the question on everyone’s mind: what will office space look like after COVID-19?
Social Distancing Goes to the Office
Boomers remember competing for the corner office before the days of open office plans that spurred collaboration and “management by walking around.” Current health concerns, however, may require a return to past designs. As a result, office space after COVID-19 could look more as it did in the past.
Many businesses will require a reorganization of space and furniture. If private offices aren’t feasible due to cost, then personal workspaces like desks and cubes will have to adapt with Plexiglas separators and higher cubicle walls. Employees will sit back-to-back rather than face-to-face, all six feet apart. Long, communal tables and packed conference rooms will disappear in favor of larger spaces with fewer chairs. Floor décor that marks out six feet of space will become the norm.
With any change in office configuration, especially with new walls and barriers, safety systems may need a second look. Make sure you and your building owner know how to maintain the property’s fire sprinkler systems, so the two of you can have a meaningful conversation about what comes next. With your property owner, reassess emergency exit pathways, signage, and lighting. These may require enhancements or redesigns to ensure compliance with local fire safety codes and accommodate adjusted office layouts.
Offices will take their cues from health care environments and laboratories and impose one-way traffic patterns. Anti-microbial fabrics and other materials that resist the accumulation of germs will replace older types of fixtures and upholstery. Buildings may install special UV lighting that can disinfect surfaces at night. Personal space in kitchens and bathrooms will increase.
Many building owners are rethinking how air circulates throughout their space. Architects and building designers are already retrofitting older buildings and designing new buildings with more advanced air filtration systems to provide fresher air to workers and residents.
Opening doors, turning on lights, directing elevators to the desired floor, and making presentations without touching surfaces or remotes will mean greater use of automation. Keyboards, phones, and each computer mouse will be disinfected nightly or replaced when possible with a no-touch version that responds to a wave of the hand or a voice command. Even vending machines might find a way to respond to voice commands rather than the touch of a button.
Don’t Go Back At All
Many businesses have discovered that working from home simply works. Companies pivoted quickly and easily to remote work. Unsurprisingly, many workers find working a few steps from their bedroom preferable to a long commute. Companies are getting the idea that they need not spend so much on leasing office space if business can carry on as usual with a remote workforce. Working from home requires planning for organization and time management. Office space after COVID-19 may shrink because businesses and workers are managing WFH successfully