The COVID-19 pandemic has turned our world upside down, especially when it comes to how and where people do their jobs.
Eventually, no one can say for certain, things will try to go back to some resemblance of normal. But the thing is, they won’t ever be quite the same. The way we work in offices is going to change dramatically, but how? We take a look at our predictions for how workplaces will need to adapt for a post-COVID-19 future.
1. Surge in home working
A huge amount of businesses have had to, where possible, allow their staff to continue working from home. This is even true of businesses who thought it impossible, and believed they really needed their staff to be in an office five days a week. They’ve been proven wrong, and so we predict a huge upswing in the number of people asking for, and now being granted, flexible working. This could be being able to work from home or work remotely… It could be anything, but flexibility in the when and where is key. While this may not always be due to sickness – although it may help those people who feel ill but also that they couldn’t afford a sick day, as they are able to work elsewhere – but will massively help working parents with last minute childcare demands.
And on the other hand, could the boom we’ve seen in co-working spaces – where different businesses (usually SMEs and start-ups) pay to have space in buildings with others – start to disappear? Will we want to share our space with people we’ve never met before?
2. The Six Feet Office
As of April 2020, the UK, and much of the world, is still under a lockdown, meaning non-key workers can only leave their homes for certain reasons. While this lockdown won’t last forever and we will soon be able to go back to work, ‘social distancing’ guidelines may still remain in place. That is staying two metres / six feet apart from those who are not a member of the same household.
Enter the Six Feet Office.
Over the last few years, our workplaces have shrunk. Arjun Kaicker, Head of User Parametrics at Zaha Hadid Architects, told The Guardian: “Office desks have shrunk over the years, from 1.8-metre to 1.6-metre, to now 1.4-metre and less, but I think we’ll see a reversal of that, as people won’t want to sit so close together.”
The Six Feet Office predicts that offices will have to adapt and change to accompany our newfound social distancing habits, which may continue for any numbers of months. It works on six principles:
- Be welcome at work, but always act responsibly
- Stick to the rules, follow the signs
- Stay safe at six feet away from each other
- Walk the office clockwise, always and everywhere
- Enter and leave meeting rooms as indicated
- Replace your deskpad daily and leave a clean desk
Is this the kind of workplace we’re looking towards in the not-so distant future?
3. More screens
For years now, open plan offices have led continuously as one of the most coveted design trends. There are pros and cons to it of course, like any layout, but will a post-COVID-19 world signal a move back to closed plan?
We predict a halfway point. We won’t go completely closed plan – the benefits of more socialising and teamwork will be lost entirely if we do that – but we do believe that we will see more protection and privacy screens up and around desks. We’re not talking about the cellular cubicles circa of the 1950s, but screens that protect the front and sides of employees may certainly start to make a return.
4. More ventilation
Ventilation is key to a healthy and happy office. Nobody likes being stuck in a windowless room where it’s freezing in the morning and stuffy and sweltering by the afternoon. And good ventilation is important in preventing the spread of bugs and germs. So a big trend in new office design could simply be the ability to open a window. Something that you’d be surprised to learn was lacking in many offices across the country.
If opening a window just isn’t an option – as it something isn’t – then we could see a strong demand for intelligent office climate control systems. This could be key to built-up areas such as city centres.
5. Better hygiene
When was the last time you cleaned your desk and all your equipment? Yes, we thought so. But don’t worry, chances are you’re not alone. We just don’t think about what could be lurking on our desktop, our keyboard and our mouse, but considering how much we touch them throughout the day, there could be all sorts on there!
It could be as simple as providing antibacterial wipes, or making cloths and sprays readily available at the start and end of each day. Reminding employees of the importance of good hand hygiene and having antibacterial gel throughout the building.
6. Floor markings
If you’ve been to a supermarket lately, then you’ll have seen the tape markings on the floor indicating the recommended two metres. Think these, but for the office. These could be lines in building lobbies to prevent people coming too close to reception staff, to spots in lifts to indicate where you should stand – crowded lifts are no doubt a hotspot for spreading germs – to arrows showing which way to walk around offices.
Many hospitals have adopted a ‘walk clockwise’ approach during the pandemic, as creating a one-way flow of people can help to minimise the spread. Could we see this taken on board in office spaces, too?
Whenever we all do start to go back to work, there’s no doubt that things will never be the same again. We will never go back to the workspaces of early 2020 that we all took for granted. While we have tried to predict what will come when the lockdown is lifted, there really is only one way to know for sure, and that is to move forwards together into a post-COVID-19 workplace.