The Post-Pandemic Workplace

Distanced working in open space

The Coronavirus pandemic will end. When it’s over, there will be lasting changes to our daily lives, including the workplace. Certainly a whole generation will be forever changed. Family life, medical practices, social settings, etc. are sure to be different when we find a new “normal”

For us, the more immediate question is: What changes will we see in the the post-pandemic workplace? How will we use our offices? How will Covid-19 effect office layout? How will building design and property management change? We believe the answer is fundamentally 3 parts: Practices and procedures for usage; Office space design; and Building operations.

Workplace Practices

  • Masks- Wearing surgical masks will become mandatory and ubitquitious. 
  • Staggered Return – Once the ‘all clear’ whistle blows, there is no expectation of a massive rush by all hands to return to work. Lower density of people in the workplace will be adopted as part of post-pandemic best practices.
  • Accelerated Telecommuting – With fewer workers in the office, we expect to see a continuation of a high percentage of the workforce telecommuting. At least the extended shutdown has trained us all in videoconferencing and working from home.
  • Workspace Distancing – Employers will create distancing rules and safe workspace procedures. For example, guidelines for The 6 Feet Office developed in The Netherlands office of Cushman & Wakefield consists of 6 key practices: 1-Scan the work environment for virus safety; 2-Rules of conduct prioritizing employee safety; 3-Routing for each office with visual markers; 4-Workstations adapted and equipped for safely working; 5-Facility Management by a trained employee to advise and ensure optional functionality while maintaining workplace safety; and 6-Certification stating that measures have been taken to ensure a safe, virus-free work environment. 
  • More Cleaning n- All employees will wipe down their workspace daily and many will utilize disposable mats (think large paper placemats) on their workspace.
  • Additional Thoughts – WorkDesign magazine has published a very good guide for the post-pandemic office: A Common Sense Guide for the Return to the Workplace

Office Design

Norwegian open office concept with distancing & dividers for acoustic & anti-viral safety
  • Distancing by Design – Offices will be designed not only for employee distancing at their workstations, with directional signage to ensure that safe distancing can be maintained the circulation within the office, including wider corridors and more partitions between departments.
  • ‘Cleaner’ Finishes – Specifying finishes that are virus resistant, self-sterilizing and easy to clean will become more prevalent. Copper and its alloys (brass, bronze) have been shown to be essentially self-sanitizing, able to kill bacteria and perhaps even the coronavirus. Bronze on door handles other high touch areas, hard, smooth surfaces are harder to maintain, but tend to be easier to sterilize. Corian (the widely used countertop material) is also anti-bacterial. Soft surfaces will utilize anti-microbial fabrics.
  • Decreased Touching – Doors and elevators that don’t need to be touched; more automatic faucets; fewer chairs in lobbies and reception areas. 
  • Gathering Places – Lounges, cafes & collaboration areas will be divided from the rest of the workplace. Pantries and convenience centers will be decentralized to provide separate facilities for each area in an office.  

Building Operations

  • Health Screening – Building lobbies will be equipped for health screening in addition to security screening. Temperature testing all visitors, Dog screening (the London School of Tropical Medicine is hoping to have a Covid-19 dog screening in Britain by this summer), as well as mandatory face masks for all those entering the property.
  • Air Filtration – Upgraded HVAC with ultraviolet germicidal lights, higher fresh air content and improved filtration. Many landlords are already adding Ion treatment systems to their building’s HVAC. (Ion treatment could be promising but is currently unproven as an anti-viral defense.)
  • Next Generation Cleaning – Sterilization with cleaning provided by building cleaning contractors.

Impact & Ripples

Future open office layout concept

The immediate changes to the workplace outlined above are all part of the first phase of reactions to the Covid-19 pandemic. Following mass inoculation of a vaccine (mid 2021-2022?), we expect to see the additional refinements resulting from the pandemic ripple through the workplace. Like past lessons from seismic societal events (i.e. World War 2, 9/11), experience suggests that changes wrought from the pandemic will be seen in two primary phases : 1-Impact and 2- Ripples.

  • Impact – Like a boulder thrown into a pond, the impact creates a big splash that is raining upon us now. The economic impact is the shutdown of businesses, loss of revenue, remote work, scarcity of medical supplies, weakening supply chains, etc. During the Impact phase we are also gathering invaluable data of the results of massive telecommuting, humankind taking a ‘timeout’ on the planet, intense family time, etc. For example, humanity’s diminished use of resources and lighter treading on the environment has caused a huge reduction in carbon emissions and pollution. We will have an invaluable opportunity to gage the efficacy of global warming policies and health benefits of a cleaner air and water.
  • Ripples – The waves from the Impact will spread like ripples throughout societies of the world for years to come. These ripples will (hopefully) also include future benefits of protecting our populations from future pandemics, new societal norms for interaction and new ways of living and working more safely with higher quality for all.

Ripples to Watch

  • Commuting preferences – Look for a surge in bicycle commuting and an accelerated adoption of e-bikes for longer, sweat free rides.
  • Lower meat consumption – Grocers are stocking and selling less meat & poultry during the shutdown, while consumers are eating more meatless meals. If meat becomes less of a mainstay in our diets, look for potential environmental and health benefits across he population.
  • Increased family time – The rise of telecommuting will keep more people at home and more time spent with families.
  • Lower sexual abuse in the workplace – As distancing becomes the norm, there should be fewer opportunities for unwanted “back rubs” etc.

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