Social distancing may feel surreal in the beginning—co-workers avoiding physical contact, people separated by partitions, everyone wearing masks. It might even seem a little lonely with a lot of our coworkers still forced to work at home as organizations ramp up operations, allowing people to return to work in phases. Nonetheless, over time, we’ll get used to a new “normal” as novel ways of working emerge.
While there is a lot of theorizing about what constitutes “normal” going forward, we do know that the global coronavirus pandemic is changing forever the workplace as we know it. The golden opportunity forward is to redesign and build offices even better than they were before the COVID-19 plight.
As the United States and other countries steadily begin to reawaken and attempt to put this nightmare created by the COVID-19 pandemic behind them, organizations must take operational measures to foster effective health and safety practices. This begins with designing a workplace for a post-COVID-19 era. Experts conclude strategists need to take an incremental approach to reopening offices. The first step must focus on health and safety, which is necessary as most buildings were not designed for infection control.
Reevaluating the Workplace
While people are sheltering in place and working from home, analyzing how they’re coping could help shape remote work programs in the future. The data can be collected through interviews, virtual focus groups, surveys, or other types of studies. Collecting this data while people are still working from home is a critical step in being able to effectively design and build in the post-COVID-19 era.
Prepare for the New Mindset
In these extraordinary times, imaginative and innovative solutions are the only things that will bring our world back to some normalcy. Feelings of comfort, safety, and support have long been sought after by both employers and employees.
Nonetheless, COVID-19 has made it essential to set in place proactive policies to address pathogenic transmission. Retro-commissioning spaces to build restorative workplaces is no longer hype—it’s a necessity. Events like the coronavirus pandemic make future-proofing commercial buildings more vital than ever.
Identify and Prepare for Essential Personnel
The topic of expanding work-from-home policies has been discussed for quite some time. As some experts predicted, significant disruption to the traditional workforce through some event, could make serious moves towards permanently instituting remote work policies desirable or necessary.
Many employees may continue working from home after COVID-19, but, due to the nature of their work, others will be unable to work remotely. This poses a new challenge for architects and building owners; creating flexible work environments that can adapt not only to changing technology requirements, but also to new safety requirements for on-site employees.
As employees try to adjust to social distancing in the workplace, organizations can begin to bring about changes to reshape the workplace in a way that feels more natural. As experts grasp how COVID-19 behaves, organizations will have better ideas as to how they should plan for the near-term.
As travel will most likely be restricted for a while, employers need to provide better telecommunication options. Some organizations will continue to minimize workplace density by instituting work-from-home policies, while others may redistribute their real estate in new and innovative ways.
Reorganize Flex Spaces
For organizations planning to spread out their desk arrangements, expect to cut your floor capacity in half. Thus, it makes sense to temporarily transform spaces like breakout rooms, learning labs, and conference rooms into dedicated seating sections. This should allow for adequate social distancing while increasing the number of employees able to work on-site.
The COVID-19 crisis has shown the importance of being forward-thinking and flexible in designing and organizing workplaces.