What will the typical office look like in a post-COVID-19 world?


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Whilst none of us know exactly how or when
we will get through the pandemic, it seems safe to assume that the offices we
return to will be dramatically altered to suit the post-COVID-19 landscape.

But what exactly will be the new ‘normal’? How
will the pandemic change
the rules
of the office?  As millions
of employees worldwide adapt to the idea of working from home, going back to
the way things were before may prove difficult. Previously untested concepts,
such as wide scale remote work, have brought best practices into question in
many workplaces.

In a recent article on CNBC, Ellen Sheng
highlights three
major ways
in which the workplace of the near future will be changed by the
current pandemic.

  1. More space for individual

Office design is set to change in the
coming months as employers look to provide individual employees with more space
in order to meet social distancing requirements. Prior to COVID-19, the typical
British office employee occupied approximately 12m2
of floorspace, with government guidelines suggesting a minimum of 5m2 per
employee. Expect to see these statistics change as a result of COVID-19, with
employers placing more emphasis on social distancing until a vaccine has become
widely available.

Some businesses, such as global real estate
company Cushman & Wakefield, have begun to adapt to these changes by
creating office spaces designed to adhere to social distancing rules, using
shapes and colours on the floor to clearly mark a safe distance of six feet.

  • Improved sanitation and

The post COVID-19 landscape will also
undoubtedly see increased emphasis placed on workplace sanitation and
ventilation as readily available hand sanitiser and wide-open windows become
the standard. Other more drastic changes, such as the adoption of high-tech air
filtration systems may also come as a result of the threat posed by airborne
diseases. These filtration systems, also designed to serve as climate control
devices, are already widespread in countries such as China, serving to help
workers return to their offices in major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai.

An increased focus on sanitation may also lead to a more permanent change in the way that people interact within the office environment. Common greetings, such as handshakes, may remain frowned upon as businesses prioritise the health of their employees.

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One thing is for sure, even after the
threat of COVID-19 is long past, the impact that it has had on the global
economy will lead to businesses taking increased precautionary measures moving
forward into the coming years.

  • Increased flexibility

Flexibility will be something that
employees across the world will begin to value more and more as they grow
accustomed to working remotely. Modern technology has allowed millions of
employees across the world to remain productive from the comfort of their own
homes, eliminating the need for long commutes and opening people’s eyes to the
potential of flexible workspaces that don’t fit the typical office mould.

Coworking hubs, private short-term
workspaces and virtual office spaces all serve to represent the future of
office culture, allowing employees to work on their own terms and in
environments that they feel comfortable in.

In a recent Politico article,
Deborah Tannen, professor of linguists at Georgetown University, suggests that
the events of the last handful of months will lead to employees questioning the
need for in-person interaction when tested alternatives, such as video
conferencing, serve to eliminate the need for traditional face to face

In the very same article, Ethan Zuckerman,
associate professor of media arts and sciences at MIT, goes as far as to say
that institutions as prominent as the U.S. Congress could be coaxed into
embracing the digital workspace through the introduction of virtual
legislating. Zuckerman suggests that by moving from the floor of the House of
Representatives to the virtual world, members of Congress would not only remain
more connected to their local districts but also become harder to influence as
they move away from the hordes of Washington lobbyists.

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With that being said, the benefits of
working in a traditional office cannot be understated. Valuable skills such as
teamwork, leadership and punctuality are all learned in an office as employees
are constantly forced to develop new ideas based on their face to face
interactions with colleagues.

The feeling of comradery that is built
through office interaction is also vital to the success of any company, having
employees split up across different workspaces will limit this and make it hard
for people to gauge how others are progressing towards common goals.

Working remotely can also lead to what is
known as ‘work creep’ as employees struggle to separate their personal and
professional lives, leading to people checking emails late at night or not
taking appropriate breaks throughout the day.

While we have yet to see the full impact of the current crisis on future workspace trends one thing is certain – the COVID-19 pandemic is serving as a catalyst for change in office norms.

Photo credits: eOffice

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