These are unprecedented times, and many companies have had to adapt quickly without being able to bring employees together in their home base. This has meant temporary closures for some and remote work for others. Whatever your company has been doing to get by during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s time to start considering a post-pandemic office. This doesn’t mean workers will be returning to the office after COVID-19 is completely gone — the virus will likely continue to be a concern for quite some time. But we can still look forward to a bit more normalcy in our lives.
So, how will COVID-19 change the workplace, and how can we help employees get back to work at the office without jeopardizing their physical and mental health? We’re going to walk through important information to help with this transition, including what new trends you can expect to see, how you can ease the transition for your team and how you can redesign your office to be a safer place for employees.
What Will the Office Look Like Post-Pandemic?
In all the uncertainty, one thing is sure: The post-pandemic office will look different from the office many of us left early this spring. Working from home has its perks and may work well for some jobs, but many companies need the office to serve as a center of operations and facilitate collaboration among employees. The office also provides a place for clients or business partners to connect with your company.
For these reasons, the office will remain — but with some key changes. Let’s take a look at some of the changes that many offices will likely start implementing:
1. More Distance Between Employees
Since the most recent recession, a trend that has characterized office design has been “densification” — packing employees into smaller office spaces. This saves companies on overhead, which is why it became a popular trend. In some cases, having employees work closer together may help foster a tight-knit community feeling. The problem with this trend is that it makes it difficult or impossible to abide by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines of 6-feet social distancing.
As offices begin to function again, we can expect to see the densification trend reverse so employees are able to keep their distance from each other. This will require workstations that are more spaced out and reconfigured common spaces that are no longer designed for close contact among employees.
2. Cubicles or Other Dividers
Another trend that has characterized office design in recent years is the open office. This layout tends to forego cubicles in favor of benching desks and other shared workstations. In some offices, employees don’t even have designated workstations. Instead, they reserve various workstations — a practice known as hoteling. Even if you have designated workstations for your employees, if those workstations are adjoined and close together, it’s time for a change.
Expect to see offices installing plexiglass dividers between workstations and moving desks so employees are no longer facing each other or sitting too close. We also anticipate cubicles to come back to offices that had previously moved away from cubicles. The good news for these offices is that there are many different cubicle options today that weren’t available a few decades ago. Today, you can find cubicles that are attractive, customizable and easy to reconfigure.
3. Testing and Contact Tracing
Some companies will start taking precautions to ensure none of their employees have COVID-19. Because someone can test positive for the virus and experience no symptoms, it isn’t enough to ask workers to stay home if they feel sick, though employers will certainly do that. This may look like taking employees’ temperatures at the door using a thermometer or infrared body temperature scanners, as Goldman Sachs is planning to do. In some cases, it could also involve routine testing for the virus.
Offices may also leverage contact tracing technology so that, if an employee is diagnosed with COVID-19, employers have records of any co-workers that employee came into contact with. These exposed employees would then be asked to self-quarantine so the virus doesn’t have the opportunity to spread throughout the office. These measures may feel like an invasion of privacy to some employees, but others will appreciate the extra safety measures.
4. More Hands-Free Technology
Offices are finding ways to incorporate more hands-free technology to minimize how many shared surfaces employees have to touch in the office. In recent years, we’ve seen hands-free technology introduced into public restrooms through motion-sensor faucets, dryers or paper towel dispensers, but now you’ll see more hands-free technology pop up in public spaces, including office buildings.
Some examples include:
Voice-activated controls in elevators
No-touch badge readers
No-touch garbage cans
In some places, it’s hard to avoid touching shared surfaces, such as a keypad on a printer or a keyboard on a shared computer. You may see disposable covers implemented in these locations to protect people.
5. Frequent and Thorough Cleaning
There’s no doubt that going forward, there will be a greater emphasis on cleaning than employees have seen before. Even offices with janitorial staff who clean the office regularly will likely find ways to implement more frequent or rigorous cleaning procedures. This will involve sanitizing or disinfecting surfaces regularly to kill viruses and other germs.
We may start to see more innovative cleaning methods, such as electrostatic cleaning, which involves spraying a disinfecting mist with positively charged particles onto surfaces or objects. These electrically charged particles help the spray fully coat surfaces for more thorough disinfection. We may even see some offices use UV light to disinfect entire rooms.
Tips to Help Employees Successfully Return to the Office
After temporarily closing or having employees work from home, returning to the office may seem intimidating to management and employees. Employees have gotten used to new routines and will have to readjust to coming into the office on a regular basis. As long as COVID-19 is still a threat, employees may experience anxiety as they start to work in-person again. Let’s look at some tips for how to help employees return to work in the office in a way that will protect their health and give them peace of mind.
1. Keep the Line of Communication Open
One of the most important ways to help employees back to the office and minimize stress is by keeping the lines of communication open. Send emails or hold virtual meetings ahead of your return to share as much information as you can about what the transition will look like. For most people, feeling more informed will reduce their level of fear and help them come back to the post-pandemic workplace with confidence.
Keep in mind that we are all learning as we go. This means you can feel comfortable inviting feedback from your employees. Ask for their perspective on how your company is handling the transition, and ask if there are elements of remote work they want to keep going forward — such as virtual rather than in-person meetings. You will likely get conflicting feedback from different employees, but you may see a general consensus that helps you strategize more effectively. This will also help your employees feel heard and respected.
2. Conduct Training
Training will be critical to help employees adapt to new policies and stay safe. You should consider conducting training virtually so employees can complete the training from their workstations rather than sitting together in a conference room. This training should include general information on how to prevent the spread of germs. You can cover information regarding handwashing, avoiding touching your face and other instructions from the CDC to minimize people’s risk of spreading or contracting the virus.
Your training should also cover changes to your work procedures going forward. Maybe you’re limiting the number of people in the break room or requiring employees to clear their desks of any memorabilia for easier cleaning. Whatever your new guidelines are for employees, make sure everyone is aware of these expectations.
3. Allow Employees to Do What Makes Them Feel Safe
You should allow employees to take extra measures that will help them feel safe in the post-pandemic workplace. Workers at jobs that involve a relatively low exposure risk to COVID-19 are not required to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks, but some employees may prefer to wear a mask or gloves for extra safety.
If you’re having meetings in the conference room, some employees may prefer to join by phone or virtually from their workstation. If you can make accommodations that don’t have a negative effect on employees’ work performance and your company, you should strongly consider them. Feeling safe psychologically can be just as important as physical safety in this situation, so allow your employees to find their personal comfort level — especially early in the transition.
4. Make Cleaning Visible
Cleaning professionals are used to coming into offices at night or on the weekends so they can clean while the office is vacant. For some, this arrangement should change so cleaning occurs while employees are at the office. This “visible housekeeping” can reassure employees that they are working in a clean and safe environment.
Visible cleaning shows your employees how seriously your organization is taking preventative measures. You may have to save some cleaning tasks, like mopping floors, for off-hours, but having some cleaning take place during working hours is a smart move.
5. Create New Schedules If Necessary
If your office is not large enough to space employees out adequately, you may want to consider returning to the office after the pandemic with a new, temporary schedule. This could look like staggering the days or times employees work so not all your employees are there at once. On the days employees are not in the office, they could work from home.
You could also give employees assigned times to eat lunch in the break room so you can avoid overcrowding. Staggering work schedules or the use of certain spaces in your office can help you maintain social distancing guidelines and help your employees feel safer.
How to Redesign Your Office for the Post-Pandemic Workplace
Let’s talk practically about how to update your office post-pandemic. Your office design itself may need to change to accommodate your employees’ safety and comfort. Here are a few ways you can do that:
Post informational signage: Incorporating signage into your office design can help you remind employees of new social distancing protocols or other guidelines. For example, a sign in the restroom can remind employees to wash their hands for 20 seconds. You can also post new occupancy limits for conference rooms or break rooms.
Eliminate bottlenecks: If there are areas in your office like entrances and exits where traffic flow congestion can occur, you’ll want to find ways to avoid this. One way you can solve this issue in post-pandemic office design is with wider corridors that only allow one-way foot traffic.
Rethink your layout: It’s time to get out your tape measure and see if your current layout allows employees to socially distance while working. If not, you’ll want to move desks around and find a new layout that will help employees feel safer. This may also mean reconfiguring your conference room to pull chairs farther apart.
Add partitions to workstations: Open office designs can still incorporate barriers between employees. You can install temporary sneeze guards or find open concept setups that include partitions between employees’ workstations. This can help prevent the spread of germs and provide employees with some privacy.
Install cubicles: Another step you should consider taking is installing cubicles in your office. Ideally, these cubicles should be 6 feet by 6 feet or larger so you can abide by social distancing guidelines. Sunline cubicles are an excellent option since they are customizable and much easier to put together than other cubicles.
Contact Arnold’s Office Furniture for Professional Office Design Services
Designing your office post-pandemic may seem overwhelming as you try to navigate the transition. That’s why Arnold’s Office Furniture is here to help. We offer design services so you make the most of your space and factor in new concerns, such as social distancing. Our design team is available 24/7 to help you get through this time successfully.
We can also supply all the new office furniture you need, including Sunline cubicles — the most innovative, flexible and convenient cubicles you’ll find on the market today. You can provide employees with privacy and protection while maintaining a distinctly modern feel and attractive aesthetic in your office. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you redesign your office for a new era.