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What’s likely to happen once offices reopen.

(Illustration: Arnica Kala/The Quint)

Reimagining Office Life: What’ll Happen When We Go Back to Work?

Are offices likely to be different in a post-lockdown scenario? We look at what possible changes we could expect. 

4 min read

At some point, we are all hoping we can return to our offices and resume our routines. But when we do get back to work, we may walk into a completely different space. Based on all the predictions for when COVID-19 will finally be under control, we are still a while away from complete normalcy, which is why offices, large and small, are now re-imagining workspaces for when they open up.

Social Distancing is here to stay and offices will have to redesign their spaces, at least for the next six months or so. This could include, but not be limited to individual office spaces being rearranged to maintain a six-feet distance, so your desk buddy may not be in a snack/gossip sharing distance from you anymore. Face or surgical masks could become mandatory inside offices. In some cases, especially in offices with smaller spaces, work from home could be implemented permanently or at least for a longer duration.

For at least the foreseeable future, a lot of organisations are likely to consider working at a reduced force strength at any given time, to avoid crowding. For this reason, organisations may consider adopting staggered shifts for their employees to come into work. What could also be considered are alternate work days, splitting work from home and work from office days for all employees.

Bottleneck areas, where people are likely to be in close proximity, like cafeterias, reception areas, or waiting rooms and meeting rooms, will have to be closely monitored and controlled. To bypass this, experts have suggested having shorter meetings with fewer people and staggering lunch, coffee, and snack breaks, all while maintaining the required six-feet gap.

Till COVID-19 is completely in control, one of the big areas of concern is likely to be the number of common touch points in an office building – starting from elevator buttons to door handles, these are all surfaces that viruses could potentially fester on. Even before the lockdown, quite a few organisations had begun thermal screenings and temperature checks for their employees. This is likely to continue and be adopted by even more organisations. While touch-less, automatic elevators and doors would be a dream, since, for most organisations that could be an added cost, they may just stick to frequent cleaning of surfaces.

Not just commonly touched surfaces, but all surfaces are likely to be frequently cleaned with disinfectants, in what would be a heightened new cleaning policy, across companies. Easy to follow rules, such as mandatory hand washing on entering the office, are likely to be adopted. The other thing that offices will have to pay attention to would be ventilation, especially in buildings that have central air conditioning.

Ventilation management is likely to become key, with experts recommending that ventilation systems run throughout the day and night, even when there are no employees at work. Experts also recommend the opening of windows for a couple of hours every day, even if there is a good automatic ventilation system in place.

And finally, the COVID-19 virus might usher in the end of open floor offices. Since the last recession in 2008, more and more offices have opted for an open floor plan, to try and pack as many people as possible in as little space or what is known as densification. Open floor offices gave raise to more transparency in work culture and were a clear segue from the cubicle offices of yore. Coronavirus is likely to change that. If not going back to full- fledged cubicles, it is likely that some kind of partition or barrier may be introduced between desks to create physical distancing.

While a lot of these options may be time- and money-intensive for organisations, most offices and managers will have to consider a very different office space and culture for at least the next three to six months, before we can possibly return to normalcy. Till then, if you do go back to work, find a new way of greeting your co-worker and maintain social distancing.

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