Offices After COVID: 7 Ways the Pandemic has Changed How We Work

After months in isolation, governments around the world are gradually beginning to lift lockdown restrictions. Employers are now taking the first tentative steps towards a large-scale return to the office. And to meet the immediate challenges presented by this ‘new normal’ head-on, they’re exploring a range of short-term strategies.

From basic office design to workplace hygiene, many of these strategies will become part and parcel of the post-coronavirus office. We’ll explore some of the clearest examples here.

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What Does the ‘New Normal’ Look Like?

1.      Low-capacity Offices

Offices will operate at much lower capacity in the immediate aftermath of COVID-19 - around 30%, according to most experts.

The logic is simple: fewer people in the office means less chance of transmitting the virus. This has led employers to reconsider the minimum number of workers required to maintain normal business operations. The result will be a reduction in average capacity in the long-term to safeguard against the spread of infectious diseases – not just COVID.

Some employers may even choose to distribute their staff across several lower-capacity offices, rather than a central hub, to further reduce the risk of contamination.

2.      Widespread Remote Working

Pre-COVID, many enterprises struggled to embrace remote working. They were worried about its effect on productivity, community spirit, and morale. However, the last few months have proved that most of us are more than capable of working from home for extended periods without any issues.

It may be necessary to subsidise employees that require extensive home office refurbishments to operate effectively. Although this will come relatively cheap when measured against annual overheads. Nevertheless, those that want to work from home in future will be free to do so.

3.      Socially-distanced Workstations

Even after the threat level of COVID-19 has died down, there'll still be an emphasis on precautions like social distancing.

Correctly-spaced desks (those that are at least six-feet or two metres apart) help to reduce the spread of everything from the common cold to coronavirus. Why? Because viruses like COVID-19 are most commonly transmitted through coughing or sneezing.

We expect to see isolation screens become a common feature of the modern workplace to support these efforts. Along with visual aids and apps that employers can use to maintain social distancing between employees.

4.      Touchless Workspaces

One of the more novel approaches to workplace design, one that’s gained plenty of traction in recent weeks, is the touchless workspace.

Hands-free check-in systems for visitors, contactless doors, phone-operated lift controls, voice-activated meeting rooms, touchless bathroom fixtures: forward-thinking designers are adapting technology to keep contact to a minimum. Some are even considering thermal sensors to proactively monitor staff for signs of infection.

Technology like this will be the norm for new builds as a preventative measure against future outbreaks.

5.      Increased Focus on Air Filtration

The jury’s still out on whether COVID-19 is an airborne virus. The latest government research simply states that it may be possible under certain conditions. Yet, despite the uncertainty, air filtration remains a key concern for many employers. This isn’t a bad thing.

Studies have shown that recycling indoor air with fresh air from outside helps to dilute viral contaminants – including the flu. You can achieve this by opening windows throughout the office or by installing a specially-designed filtration system. Both help to improve air flow.

As a result, employers will pay more attention to their heating, ventilation, and air conditioning setup (HVAC) going forward. Not only to keep workers safe and healthy, but to give them added peace of mind.

6.      Intensified Cleaning

Touchless technology helps reduce contact in the office but can’t eliminate it entirely. Running over desks and communal areas with a wet cloth will have limited effect on most viruses. So, employers are already exploring ways they can increase the intensity of their cleaning efforts in preparation for the return to work.

Dry fogging and fumigation services, for example, are in high demand. They enable cleaning staff to disinfect large workspaces quickly and safely.

This more rigorous approach to cleaning will continue long after the COVID crisis is over. Supported by a greater emphasis amongst office designers on hard-wearing, non-porous materials that can withstand heavy-duty cleaning techniques.

7.      Plenty of Hand Sanitiser

Hand sanitiser stations will be as ubiquitous as coffee and wilting pot plants in the office of the future.

You can’t expect employees to wash their hands every time they open a cupboard door or answer the phone. But by placing hand sanitiser stations at high-traffic areas, staff can keep their hands clean and germ-free without disruption.

There are several inexpensive and scalable solutions on the market. We recommend using automatic or foot-operated sanitiser units. Because they’re hands-free, they provide an added layer of protection against infection.

Preparing for a Safe Return

It’s impossible to predict all the ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic will affect our daily working lives. As scientists learn more about the virus and its impact on society, we could well see the traditional office environment change even further.

For now, focus on upgrading your workspace to adhere to current social distancing guidelines. This will be essential to allaying those initial fears your employees have about returning to the office. While in the long-term, it will help futureproof your office against outbreaks.

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