Is Your Workplace Ready for Workers to Return after COVID-19?

April 16, 2020

By Jean-Paul Wong

As you read this, you’re probably sitting at your dining room table, your living room sofa or some makeshift office in your home.  It may not be designed to be as efficient as your office’s workspace, and it may lack good ergonomics, but it is comfortable and safe and you have learned to adapt to your environment to be productive.   

Since forever in time, office spaces existed so that employers could create “work-focused” environments, where productivity could be managed, where workers could communicate more effectively, and where collaboration and comradery are encouraged.   In recent years, however, as mobile technologies advanced, more progressive companies embraced the idea of teleworking as a significant way to save in real estate costs and as a way to attract a more mobile and diverse workforce.  Yet, for some industries, and for some businesses, the idea of a full-time remote workforce is still years away. In 2018, less than 25% of the U.S. workforce worked some hours from home on an average day.   

The COVID-19 pandemic, and stay-at-home mandates, thrust all of us into the workplace of the future.  Everyone quickly learned how to create a work-focused enclave in their home.  We learned how to adjust our behaviors and our expectations. And by now we all realize that we can perform our work using a myriad of remote devices.  And technology, not proximity, allows us to communicate, as well as collaborate.  

Unfortunately, the future is not here, and many of us will be going back to the office within the next few weeks.  If COVID-19 is still transmittable, how can workers be expected to go back to the office?  What will our employers do to our office environment to reduce the spread of pathogens?  How can we make sure that our co-workers remain respectful of our personal space and continue to social distance? Will it be the same? 

As employers prepare for the end of the quarantine and the work-from-home experiment comes to an end, our fears are providing good fodder for designers, workplace consultants and office furniture manufacturers.   In the not-to-distant future, workplace design may be reflective of the lessons learned during the pandemic of 2020.  

There is no reason to delay.  In the short-term, employers can make some immediate changes, making the workplace appreciably safer, with little associated cost.   

Many of these products are available for immediate application and the ideas are simple to implement. Employees returning to the office will want to find that their workplace is safe, but that the “new-normal” is still a place where work gets done, is fun and where co-workers can engage and share ideas.  The key to the efficacy of any solution will be in how we change our behaviors and tendencies.