With lockdown restrictions easing, and employees from many industries now being advised to return to work, it will be interesting to see how long it takes for traditionally office-based staff to become comfortable enough and indeed required (such has been the success of homeworking) to return to their old office desks and leave their kitchen tables behind.
The government has of course warned that COVID-19 is a long-term problem and that the virus will likely be with us for many more months, if not years, and will continue to spread from person to person if the necessary precautions are not in place.
So, to boost employee confidence and create a safe working environment, businesses must act sensibly and put the safety of their staff, suppliers and customers at the heart of their operation. Central to this will be redefining the office space and how it will work.
So, what will offices look like post-lockdown, and what will become the ‘new normal’ we are hearing so much about?
One-way systems and restricted areas
At the start of lockdown, shops and supermarkets implemented ‘one-way’ systems and 2m marker points to ensure there was a clear flow of traffic and that customers stuck to social distancing guidelines.
As one of the easiest and most cost-effective options, it is likely offices will adopt this approach, in addition to closing off or limiting access to communal spaces, such as kitchens and break-out rooms.
This suggestion has proven controversial; however, over 50 countries including Venezuela, UAE and Turkey have made it mandatory for anyone leaving their home to wear a facemask.
The government has not included mandatory facemasks in its roadmap to reopen the UK, but it has advised people to wear one to prevent spreading the disease.
Although the government is not enforcing mandatory facemasks, employers may introduce their own facemask rules within their buildings.
In many offices, desks are often bunched together to save floor space and ensure maximum occupancy. However, offices with a bunched desk layout may need to make short-term arrangements to ensure social distancing guidelines are adhered to.
Changes could include rearranging desks to ensure enough space is created between employees and installing spit guards.
Understandably, making changes to an office’s layout will alter its capacity which leads onto our next point.
Working from home has proven very efficient for a lot of businesses and employees during the pandemic. Due to this, it is likely that many businesses will consider allowing employees to continue working from home once lockdown eases.
However, in some scenarios, employees need to be in the office.
In this case, employers may look at a staggered return approach, where employees alternate the days when they work in the office and from home.
Design strategist, Albert De Plazaola, has suggested that capping the number of staff in the office to 30% post-lockdown is likely the ‘sweet spot’ for social distancing.
The rapid acceleration of smart and voice technology in the last decade has changed everyday life for most people. Design experts have suggested that offices with the capital to invest, may install smart tech within their buildings post-lockdown.
Smart office technology can allow employees to summon a lift with their mobile phone, turn lights on with their voice and unlock doors with a scan of their face.
These features may sound like high-tech gimmicks; however, they all allow employees to use the office without the need to touch communal surfaces.
The end of hot desking?
Hot desking is a popular trend among offices where employees don’t have their own dedicated desk, but instead can pitch up on any desk available that day.
With an enhanced focus on cleanliness and hygiene, it is likely we will see the end of hotdesking post lockdown, as employers will have difficulty ensuring desks are kept adequately clean.
A ‘new normal’
Changes were already taking place in our working environment and to our working practices before Covid-19. It seems like the pandemic merely accelerated many of them. So, it is inevitable that post-lockdown our offices will look different. Just how different and for how long are the questions?