The post Pandemic workplace will no longer focus on the once idealized state-of-the-art concepts of “Open-Door” policy and “Shared Desk-Space”. Since the very beginning of the Corona Pandemic, people have been forced to Work From Home (WFH). However, WFH is neither a savior for business owners nor their employees. This poses a question that when employees start going back to their offices, how they are going to maintain a social distance? How they can avoid any physical contact with colleagues? Moreover, how they are going to ensure that the air they breathe in is clean and does not contain any COVID-19 droplets?
WFH was first coined by Jack Neil in 1976 in his book “The Telecommunications Transportation Tradeoff”. His proposed systems brought workers closer to work. Until recently, the statistics showed a massive increase in the productivity of employees who had the option to work from home, one or two days a month. But recent statistics of U.S Work from Home Survey by Gensler Research Institute showed that only 12% of U.S. workers want to work from home full-time. Gensler’s research placed top reasons why employees want to return to come to the office. The topmost reason remained scheduled meetings and socializing with colleagues, access to the technology and to focus on work. Most want to return to the workplace, but with critical changes.
One of these changes would be no shared desk-space. The very concept of Shared Desk-Space was proposed to increase the productivity and creativity of the employees while they work in agile teams. The employees will now demand more desk space per employee to maintain social distancing. Such justified demands are easier for corporates giants to honor. But for small and medium enterprises (SMEs), this is a lot of expenditure for some, and not an option for others. It is only logical that strict policies and stand operating proceducres (SOPs) are going to be a part of the post-pandemic workplace. While workers expect less sharing of workstations, employers are only left with two options as a possible solution to maintain social distancing. Either employer acquires more office space or adopts an innovative work shift schedule.
Workstations, meeting rooms, and game rooms where employees used to gather and socialize will be turned apart into solo offices with regular deep cleaning. Sixty eight percent responded that there should be a reduced number of shared workspaces when we get back to work – U.S work from home survey. A good alternative would be the use of plexiglass dividers that works like cough shields. If someone opts for desk arrangements or increases per employee workstation space, he will not only have to think about employee’s 6’x6’ cubical, but also must consider all the spaces this employee moves through in offices.
As Joe Connell (a commercial and corporate designer at architectural firm Perkins & Will) asks a very vital question about changing office space, he is also provoking an important consideration like “What do you do in an elevator? Corridors? Hallways?”. As mentioned by Connell, many companies that have entrances controlled by biometric and requires palm verification must consider other options to ensure safety.
PropTech or Property Technology – the utilization of information technology and platform economics in the real estate industry, intended to reduce paperwork and quicker transactions, is one possible solution. Where companies are working on hands-free technology. The purpose of this effort is to not only automate entrance through infrared temperature checks, facial recognition, or QR code entries but also place voice-activated elevators to avoid touching any hard metal or surface that is one of the biggest sources of infection transmission. When asked, 65% of respondents answered that there should be increased virtual meetings in place of business travels and 58% asked to include infrared temperature screening – Gensler Research Survey.
Research conducted by the University of Chicago suggested that more than 37% of U.S employers will consider the WFH option as a permanent way of running business operations. Nevertheless, WFH practices are not very fruitful for many small and medium business as they measure the performance of work from home employee by using the time they spend online (actually turning on a software application rather sitting and working) and this is the very reason that this time has surpassed the working hours of employees’ office work timings. It is also true that many employees are working very hard, most of the time they find themselves in limbo while managing their work and personal time.
As it appears to many, WFH will become a new normal, and companies will allow their workers to work from home for the rest of their lives. But ground realities are different. Gensler Research suggested that 73% of their respondents responded positively to the increased need for social distancing on workspaces. With decreased employee productivity caused by distractions at home and lack of proper workstation, WFH is the least preferred choice of many employers right now. Many employers prefer spending the extra money to rent or hire office space than to allow workers to work from home on a long-term basis. Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google, suggested that knowing the true worth of proper office environments and difficulties attached to WFH practices, employees will demand to work from the office as soon as there are any relaxations in COVID-19 lockdowns – Business Insider. If employees are going to work from the office, that will place a premium on office space. Sooner or later, employees must go back to work, sitting at their own office, doing the same old reporting, and routine stuff. Keeping this in mind employers must keep an eye on where office space is heading in the future. WFH productivity is low which means business owners are paying more for less work, all this at the cost of avoiding the expenses to meet the regulations and SOPs running offices during COVID-19 time. A post-pandemic employee/person will be rational enough to keep up with the social distancing regulations on his own. The major question that this era put on employers is what will be the future of office space? This means if employers want their employees to stay motivated and work from the office, they have to perform a complete redesign of their office space that would not only ensure the social distance but also ensure a quiet and distraction-free environment.