What will life look like when we go back to work in normal offices? What kind of changes need to be made? To be sure, it won’t go back to normal completely, and many factors will need to be taken into consideration by employers and companies before employees can safely return to work. Read on to find out what a workspace in a post COVID-19 world looks like.
Much of what we took for granted will change in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic. After most of the world has undergone quarantine lockdowns to varying degrees of severity, we are all examining and reassessing our lifestyles. We have come to realize what is necessary and what is dispensable in our lives. Very importantly, our work spaces and work-styles – right down to the type of office furniture we use and the way we arrange it – will undergo a sea change in the post-COVID-19 era.
The COVID pandemic – end or beginning?
Until an effective COVID vaccine is developed and made widely available, voluntary isolation and physical distancing are going to remain the norm. Not only that, experts are of the view that the novel coronavirus pandemic of 2020 is not a freak occurrence, but a sign of things to come. The overuse of antibiotics has seen evolution of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. Similarly, we are also going to see more zoonotic viruses such as COVID-19 in times to come. Over the past couple of decades we have seen a rise in new virus strains such as bird flu, swine flu, SARS, MERS etc.
The rapid evolution of viruses that jump from wild and domesticated animals to humans and then to other humans is something that researchers have studied – and warned about – for a long time. A 2011 study co-authored by the now-famous Dr. Anthony Fauci spoke about the ‘next influenza pandemic’ which we now find ourselves in the middle of. Post COVID-19, we will all be forced to take those ominous predictions a lot more seriously.
Lifestyle changes we will see in the post-COVID-19 world
The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in more positive changes than environmental activists could have hoped for. It has done so more effectively than the action/inaction of rich and powerful old men ever could. Right now, travel curtailments have made us realize how much of pre-pandemic travel was quite inessential. In times to come, we will probably travel less and pay more for the travel that we do undertake. Long-coveted luxury items will be seen as avoidable excesses. The use-and-throw culture will make way for the more frugal, reuse-and-repurpose mindset. Eating out is not going to disappear, but it is going to change. Our lust for fast fashion; the willingness to give in to the urge to shop as we want, when we want, may also change. It isn't just that we will be wiser in times to come; practical reasons such as global supply chain interruptions and economic downturns are going to enforce at least some of these changes.
The need to reimagine work spaces in the post coronavirus era
There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has quickly shown us ways to work from home and to implement distance learning in ways not seriously considered before. However, this does not mean that offices and schools will be a thing of the past. This Forbes piece predicts many changes: tele-conferencing, greater reliance on IoT & AI, telemedicine, online shopping, more digital events and eSports. These will become the norm or will increase significantly at any rate. Perhaps not all, but a great many of us are definitely going back to our offices and work places… different-looking offices and workspaces than before.
Physical distancing norms will have to be implemented sooner rather than later if workplaces want to reopen for business. The whole idea of a large, enclosed workspace with temperature controlled interiors shared by lots of people over a whole work-day will have to be reimagined. It isn't just the novel coronavirus – the common cold, flu and similar contagions also spread easily within these closely packed workspaces. Herd immunity will prevent these infections from becoming pandemics. However, there is still a good argument to implement changes: to protect workers, and lower the incidence of infections; ergo reduce lost workdays, and their impact on productivity.
What work spaces will look like post-COVID-19
The close-packed workspaces with colleagues sitting for extended periods within touching distance may be re-thought. The whole idea of enclosed spaces with large numbers of people breathing in the same air may also require rethinking. Earlier, expensive real estate decided how many people would be sharing limited workspace. In times to come, there will be other considerations that will require more efficient planning and office design. Norms for the average office space required per person will increase. Employers will have to look closely at the reconfiguration of office layouts, create flexible work spaces and decentralize operations. Companies will need to increase spending on ventilation and improved air circulation in offices.
Office furniture such as desks and chairs can be rearranged to ensure social distancing. The size and shape of each individual work station could also require major changes. It isn't just that desks will be placed further apart from each other; this NY Times piece predicts a possible end to the open floor office. It envisages hand sanitizers built into desks, altered air filter designs, outdoor gatherings for meetings, and plexiglass partitions between desks.
Another major change that experts envision is the evolution of the conventional desk into something quite different. More and more people are seeing the merits of electrically operated desks that can transition from sitting desks to standing desks with the push of a button. A standing desk has been seen to benefit worker health for a long time, even in the pre-COVID world. In helps prevent some of the musculoskeletal problems that are commonly seen in workers who are required to sit largely immobile for most of the working day. Standing is seen to decrease risk of heart disease and weight gain and is also seen to reduce chronic back pain vis-à-vis sitting. Some experts say that standing helps to reduce stress and improves the mood and energy levels, all of which benefit the worker as well as the organization they work for. In addition to the health benefits of the standing desk to each individual worker, the standing desk will also help in creating smart office spaces where physical distancing norms are implemented more efficiently. In the post-COVID-19 world, office spaces are going to include many more necessary innovations. The standing desk and other innovative office furniture could well become permanent features.
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