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

Due to the COVID-19 outbreak there has been a drastic shift in the way that people perceive the workplace and the idea of being in a confined space with others. 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 employees

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.

  1. Improved sanitation and ventilation

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.

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.

  1. 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 collaboration.

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.

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: coworkinglondon.com