What does a post covid office look like?
Employees going back to work in the coming weeks should be prepared for many changes.
Workers looking forward to their return to the office and a sense of normalcy should brace themselves for a wide range of new safety protocols.
The post-pandemic workplace could include greater distance between desks, mandatory masks, shift work and lineups to take crowd-free elevators or get a temperature check, according to people who design and lay out offices for a living.
Commercial real estate and Architecture firms have issued guidelines to clients on how to prepare for their employees’ return to Australian workspaces once it’s deemed appropriate. They say many changes will be required.
“It will be a very slow, graduated return to work with employees that are critical to the business, A lot of the social areas that we use when we’re at work — break spaces, lunchrooms, food courts, cafés many of those will be coming back slowly as well which will be great for business” Matt Cosgrave – Associate Director Colliers
More personal space
Architects are saying once staff arrive, there will have to be more breathing room. Seating plans should be modified in order to physically distance workers and this could include only using every second desk.
That will reverse a decades-long trend. Companies in high-rent city areas across Victoria have been cramming workers into closer proximity to each other for years. Open-plan offices with small workstations and few private offices can save space and reduce real estate costs. In some workplaces, dividers between cubicles have been abandoned, as well, to encourage teamwork and collaboration.
But studies done even before the pandemic have shown that employees working in shared or open-plan offices call in sick more often. The term “office plague” became common long before COVID-19 hit, to describe the phenomenon when a flu or cold spreads among an entire pod of workers.
Now, amid fears of COVID contagion, those types of densely populated indoor environments seem downright dangerous.
When office managers are transitioning employees back to work. Job number one is “rethink density.”
Many architects are creating “generative algorithms” to take the existing layout of a workplace and create new scenarios to meet physical distancing conditions. Desks can be staggered, giving every worker a larger perimeter of free space around them. Ever so this will be at a large cost to business and the best option could be to continue to work from home for many employees.
workers’ hours be modified. One of the most popular strategies that we are recommending for re-entry into the workplace is either shiftwork or a balance of work from home and work from the office, so that you don’t have too many people re-entering the workplace at the same time
Shifts could be organized by days of the week or hours of theday. Simply having fewer staff on the premises at any given time would bepreferable for companies hesitant to incur the expense of additional space to accommodate distancing protocols.
Office managers will also need screening measures with its clients, in order to avoid admitting workers with symptoms of the virus. “Some of the screening could include restricting entry into the building from only one access point, instead of several access points. There could be interaction with security, just to make sure that people aren’t sick.”
That could lead to line ups and wait times to get into work.
The Victorian fruit markets located in Epping have implemented temperature checks for workers and visitors alike, however time needs to be added to every visit.
Once employees get into the building, a number of other office routines will become more time-consuming such as lining up to get into an elevator, there could be additional effort required in other scenarios like waiting to go into a copier room after someone is finished using it, having sanitization practices to do after leaving a shared meeting room, boardroom or even kitchen.
We could even be faced with new ways to move around a building. I think you’ll see one-way hallways and clear directional pathways around the office. Perhaps even physical markers like what they have in grocery stores and other places, to show people what a physical distance of two metres actually looks like. Whether these measures will work is another thing but it will be something that needs to be considered just in case.
But all of these new practices may ease over time, says Matt Cosgrave, of Colliers. “I think we’re talking about a pre-vaccine phase and a post-vaccine phase” he said. “Certainly pre-vaccine, return to work isn’t going to be anything like business as usual because of the social distancing that’s required, and deep cleaning in between uses.”
Eventually some protocols may be relaxed, as governments, companies and workers begin to feel secure that COVID-19 is under control. Until then, familiar workplaces and habits of the recent past may feel very different.