The days of crowded elevators, open floor plans and communal lunch tables may be gone for good — or at least for a while.
As companies expand work-from-home arrangements, others are preparing for the return of workers in ways that spell an end to the daily rituals that punctuated office life before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold.
From the moment of arrival, changes like limiting the number of people allowed to ride the elevator and employee health checks could become standard practice.
New infections are leveling off around the country, and slowly but surely, cities are declaring themselves open for business. That is shifting the focus to the safe return to work, with commercial real estate giant Cushman & Wakefield at the forefront of those efforts.
Recently, the company released a design for office reconfiguration. Called the Six Feet Office, Cushman’s concept serves as a constant reminder for employees to maintain social distance protocols that have come to define the coronavirus pandemic era.
That means changes like more space between desks to reduce density and mitigate risks.
“There's a lot of new ways in which you walk around the office,” Toby Dodd, Cushman’s New York/Tri-State regional president, told Yahoo Finance. He added that “we just want people to sort of be able to understand how they operate in this new environment to keep health and safety.”
Outlining what people might expect to see when they return to work, Dodd hinted that technology solutions would play a role. He said the benefits of working in a shared office space and opportunities to build and reinforce corporate culture will still exist, but at a safe distance.
“We have a key that we're going to be providing everybody, which they can use to touch the photocopier or the touch other buttons that they need to. Also we do have technologies in the office, where if you walk into a meeting room the lights automatically come off on after a period of time they, they go off as well,” he said.
What the future looks like
In an effort to avoid COVID-19 exposure, some companies are opting for plexiglass barriers mounted on desks, along with hand sanitizer stations throughout the office floor.
Open doorways and no touch trash bins could also become commonplace, Dodd suggested. For those walking around, floor markings will delineate the direction of traffic flow, and how close together people can stand.
Meanwhile, collaborative gatherings will be a thing of the past, as congregating will be discouraged. It also spells the end to communal kitchens, meaning employees will visit in staggered shifts.
Google (GOOG), Facebook (FB) and Zillow (Z) are among the companies that have employees they could work at home until 2021, and possibly longer. However, work-from-home situations are fraught with their own perils, as the lines between work and home get blurred.
“Companies are really prioritizing and mental resilience of employees at the same time that they are looking at all the physical elements,” Arianna Huffington, Founder and CEO of Thrive Global told Yahoo Finance.
Huffington said maintaining a healthy mindset is paramount to being successful in the current situation and the key is having boundaries. She outlined several steps people should take in order to achieve the right balance.
“Set up a news and social media cutoff point at some point during the day, charge your phone outside your bedroom, so that you don't wake up in the middle of the night and are tempted to scroll through social media which makes it harder to go back to sleep,” she told Yahoo Finance.
While technology is “amazing” and people need to be plugged in, the Huffington Post founder said workers “need to prioritize our own humanity and make sure we have enough time to reconnect with ourselves, and with our loved ones and friends.”
Huffington points to data on the negative affects of stress and anxiety on productivity and said companies will need to be tuned in to their employees mental health if work-from-home situations become permanent. That may entail reprioritizing executive roles.
“The ...health and wellness of employees has now been moved to the front burner. In many companies before the coronavirus pandemic, it was like a nice to have benefit,”she said. “Now it's an imperative.”
And don’t forget the benefits of forging deeper personal connections, added Huffington, as employees connect with work colleagues from the heart of their homes.
“And part of it, that is actually been a positive trend is focusing on more personal connections more intimate connections,” she said.
Yvette Killian is a producer for Yahoo Finance’s On The Move.