How coronavirus will reshape the look and feel of your office
Global events with long-lasting implications usually don’t happen more than once in a generation. Most of them are impossible to predict. But when they occur, the shockwaves they produce can have far-reaching effects that affect every aspect of our lives.
Such is the case with the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of the measures taken to restrict the spread of the virus have been viewed as temporary. But as the coronavirus continues to spread and proliferate, some of its effects may be more permanent than even some experts used to imagine.
One area that’s been affected more than most is the workplace. The advent of working at home has already changed how teams function. Uncertainty about the future of COVID-19—especially its transmissibility—may even change the course of all office designs in the future.
The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted one aspect of work culture that had already been taking hold for some time: the rise of working from home. Since coronavirus shutdowns began in March 2020 around 62% of American workers have worked from home, compared to just 25% before.
So perhaps the most dramatic change in the contemporary office is that its very necessity has become questioned—it’s not the intensely focused hub of activity that drove business in the 20th century. Office designs of the future will be revised to reflect an innovative approach to group collaboration, one that emphasizes the inclusion of more remote workers and improved connectivity. Technology is central to those efforts.
A more distributed floor plan
In theory, with more workers based in remote locations, offices will have more open space. On top of that, there’s every likelihood that social distancing measures may continue into the foreseeable future.
Both these factors suggest that employees’ workstations will be more physically separated from each other in a reshaped office and may employ more permanent physical barriers like partitions between them.
In addition to spreading out desks and cubicles, employees themselves may be more sparsely distributed. Certain employee groups may come into the office on just a few designated hours a week, alternating with other groups. Offices may also establish different options to control employee concentration, either 100% work-at-home or a “hybrid” of off- and on-site workers.
The contact-free office
COVID-19’s nature as a contact-spreading virus impacts our contact with physical surfaces. This reality may be reflected in future office design with technology that works to reduce touching to complete even basic functions.
For example, voice activation could be used to operate everything from a computer terminal to the audio-visual equipment in conference rooms. Optical technology could be employed to make everything from coffee makers to toilet flushers responsive to hand waves.
Smartphones can play major parts in the contact-free offices. Mobile phone controls may replace manual controls in everyday operations like printing documents or handling phone banks—even something as mundane as pushing elevator buttons.
Focus on more sanitary materials
With the increased attention on virus transmissibility through touched surfaces, even the basic materials used to build and maintain the office could evolve quickly in the coming years.
One criterion is a given material’s ability to stand up to heavy and more corrosive cleaning agents—stone and laminates can withstand such deep cleaning, whereas oiled wood may not. On the other hand, certain non-porous surfaces proven to keep the virus around longer, like steel, may be avoided.
Offices may use more methods and advanced technology to make conditions safer—such as installing ultra-violet light filters in air ducts, providing more sinks for hand-washing in various locations, or sneeze guards at every desk.