To say that 2020’s coronavirus pandemic has changed the way that people across the globe live their daily lives would be an understatement. Instead, it’s more accurate to say that COVID-19 has pulled the rug out from under the world’s feet. The need for changes has been sudden and extreme—everything from attending school to acquiring and cooking food has been turned upside-down. The office environment, of course, is no exception and has been totally revolutionized by coronavirus.
So sure, that’s now, but what about the future? What will happen once the spread of coronavirus is more under control or once treatment options and an effective vaccine are readily available to every population?
What Does Coronavirus Mean For Offices?
It’s evident now that the typical office environment, in particular, has a long way to go before it can be considered safe and conducive to the elimination of viral spread. What will the office look like after the pandemic? What habits will be changed, which policies will be modified, and how will we adjust the design of the office space? There are already plenty of predictions out there, seven of which are gathered here to create an image depicting “The Office of the Future.”
The office post-coronavirus will likely:
Be set up so that desks and other individual workspaces are farther apart from one another post coronavirus.
COVID-19 has taught the world a concept that’s never before been embraced to such an extent as it’s being practiced now—a little something called “social distancing.” It all started when it was recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that individuals keep a distance of at least six feet apart during daily activities and interactions, even while wearing masks.
Newer research has shown that COVID-19 may be able to travel even further in the air, however (up to thirteen feet for those who are interested).
Essential businesses have acted upon this knowledge by placing bright tape on the floor to guide customers and patrons to appropriate spots while waiting in line. In some hospitals, nursing staff giving reports to one another in crowded nursing stations at change of shift have found different places to gather for their collaborative work.
Offices, too, will continue to follow the CDC’s guidelines and then some, especially as scientists learn more about just how far highly contagious viruses can travel in the air. Desks will be placed farther apart, and the entire design of the office space will change. Expect more open spaces and even bolder designs on carpets and rugs to delineate that six-foot rule. And while online safety training may have been limited to specific industries in the past, there will likely be universal training to ensure everyone is practicing COVID-related safety protocols.
In the same vein, office workers can probably expect communal spaces like office refrigerators to become ancient artifacts from the past. People won’t be the only things partitioned—their belongings will be, too. As more information comes out about coronavirus scientifically, there will likely be more changes made in how the office is set up to minimize coronavirus spread.
Adjust schedules so that employees arrive at the office in a staggered pattern throughout the day.
In cities where crowded public commutes have become some of the biggest danger zones around when it comes to viral spread, office workers can expect some systemic changes to their schedules to reduce the volume of office employees riding the bus, train, or subway at any given time. Pre-pandemic, morning and evening rush hours existed precisely because of the most common office working hours—9 am to 5 pm.
This meant, of course, that those commuting to and from work traveled in very close quarters during those peak times.
The office post-coronavirus will be likely to stagger the workdays of different departments in order to reduce the burden on public transport and hopefully spread commuting traffic throughout the day. Again, it all goes back to social distancing and the potential for viral spread—with fewer people in a single subway car at any given time, there is more space between individuals and fewer opportunities for physical contact.
The farther apart commuters remain, the fewer opportunities a virus like coronavirus will have to spread from one infected person to a non-infected person on their way to the office.
So, instead of office workers collectively starting their day at 9 am, some will continue to begin at 9 while others won’t get started until 10, 11, or even noon. They’ll leave later in the day, too, also diminishing evening rush hour.
Embrace a new dress code in the office post coronavirus.
With face masks in high demand, designers and home crafters alike have gotten creative with ways for people to keep themselves protected from coronavirus and other illnesses. It’s entirely possible that, the same way food workers will likely continue wearing gloves at take-out windows, office workers will continue to be encouraged to wear masks to work. Who knows? Reusable fabric masks may even be mass-produced and printed with a company’s logo.
However, face masks may be far from the most revolutionary thing that happens to the office dress code. In fact, don’t be surprised if some offices eliminate a dress code altogether (well, within reason).
As more and more people are working from home during the coronavirus pandemic, the American culture has begun to recognize that clothing has less effect on work ethic than was once imagined. Working from home has made it more of a challenge to associate particular dress codes with work mode, and discoveries like these aren’t going to be forgotten once office employees begin returning to work. Sure, it’s a bold prediction, but it’s definitely not something to overlook. This is the Office of the Future, after all, and it wouldn’t be exciting without some drastic changes.
Have some new and developing technology around.
Additionally, office employees can expect an even further dependence on automation. Over the years, automatic sinks and similar fixtures have become increasingly common. Now, after the pandemic, it’s probable that they’ll become the norm. Everything from automatically flushing toilets to automatic sinks, soap dispensers, and paper towel dispensers will make bathrooms higher tech than before. More doors will be equipped to open automatically. Light switches will be replaced by motion-detecting sensors that illuminate the room when someone is active within it.
If there’s a sensor that can reduce the number of people touching common surfaces, it’s likely to be implemented in the office space post coronavirus.
Automation sensors aren’t the only thing that will be around, though. Sensors that detect both motion and Wi-Fi have already been installed on desks and ceilings as a way to determine how much certain parts of an office are being used. This same technology can now be utilized to alert sanitation workers when someone has vacated a space so that it can be cleaned and sanitized immediately for the next employee using the same space.
Working patterns may also be analyzed from these sensors to assess for the possibility of overcrowding and the maintenance of appropriate social distancing.
Modify policies surrounding working from home while sick (and working from home in general).
As a society that considers itself hard-working and goal-oriented, it’s been entirely normal in the past to push through illness and physically come into work despite not feeling well, potentially exposing coworkers, clients, customers, and commute partners to illness, too. The coronavirus pandemic has ensured that plenty of people are rethinking this mindset, as more people are now working from home than ever before in an effort to decrease new COVID-19 cases.
In fact, so many office employees have been working from home (and doing so successfully) that it’s taken much of the U.S. by surprise. “Why weren’t we doing this before?” plenty of people are thinking.
Well, now they might be.
34% of American workers who commuted to their workplace before the pandemic have been working from home since the first week of April. That’s one-third of the workforce, a massive shift in the way that the country thinks about its work ethic and office culture. With such a mind-boggling change, things won’t just return to normal post-COVID. Many of these individuals will want to continue working from home, and it’s likely that their companies will let them.
Serve all-new purposes aside from the usual office-related tasks.
With more and more individuals potentially moving to an at-home work schedule, some experts are imagining that working in a physical office setting could become something of a “status symbol.”
As more people work from home, time used for in-person work gatherings will be reduced and the number of individuals present for these physical meetings will likely also be smaller. If this remains the case, companies may have to adjust what their office spaces and locations look like by renting out smaller regional hubs or offices rather than the much-larger properties full of office space which are so common today.
Therefore, companies that are seeing enough profit even during a lengthy, post-pandemic recession are going to be more likely to continue renting large corporate buildings. When this is no longer the norm, working in one of these spaces could become something special, an indicator of a highly ranked position or employment by a top company.
This also means that spaces previously used as office buildings may now become corporate hotspots or even conference centers.
Make public health emergency planning a well-oiled part of current disaster plans in the wake of coronavirus.
It’s no surprise that this pandemic has encouraged office workers and healthcare workers to come together and work as a team more than ever before, but it’s not just daily medical screenings and the presence of healthcare workers on site that will be different in some office spaces.
No, offices are going to become, in general, exponentially more health-conscious than they’ve ever been before. In particular, disaster plans will be expanded to include health emergencies. It’s likely that offices will stock up on essential medical supplies such as gloves, masks, and sanitation materials. Personal protective equipment will be diligently stocked to prevent a run on supplies.
Leave policies and expanded sick leave procedures may also be included in these plans, and employees will be diligently trained in the new adjustments. Employees can expect plenty of new seminars, training modules, and information about updated policies and procedures.
When, exactly, will these changes come to fruition? Truthfully, it’s starting now.
While major changes like these can be expected to be implemented gradually and at varying degrees from office to office, some parts of the United States are already beginning to lift their stay-at-home and social distancing restrictions as they strive to return to a normal lifestyle. Of course, the decision to lift these restrictions so early is hotly debated as the virus continues to spread across the country with over a million cases and statistics that are rising each day.
Nonetheless, people are steadily returning to work. In China, for instance, where the population is more widely recovering and returning to some sense of almost-normalcy, many of these changes have already taken effect.
Why Is This So Important?
Finally, why is all of this so important? Why is it necessary to make such drastic changes to an office system that has remained largely the same for so long?
Because this simply can’t happen again. Coronavirus isn’t the only threat out there, and now that the world has learned more about how to combat these illnesses, the duty to protect one another can’t be ignored. The Office of the Future isn’t just an advancement—it’s safety.