Temperature tests, repurposed meeting rooms, taped-off lifts, protective screens between workstations , a shift to extreme hygiene practices, and an increased demand for shift rotations are all being examined by businesses the world over as they prepare for a slow and staggered return to work, in a post-COVID 19 world. In the absence of a vaccine and employees dreading to rejoin work, aspects of modern workplaces will have to take a dramatic turn if employees are to safely return to their desks. The first phase of resuming office life will involve making basic changes to keep employees safe and allay fears. For this, expect to see some major changes in your office layout and your work life as employees prepare to go back to work. Here’s what your office could look like moving forward:
A more virtual workplace will mean a change in operations. Even if a lion’s share of your workers are required to physically come in to work, certain events, meetings and methods can still shift to virtual to limit people’s exposure. Even though operating in a virtual manner is found to be more efficient, any thing new presents its own set of obstacles as well – and not just in terms of the capacity of our infrastructure and hardware to sustain the digital load, but also in areas like company culture and employee engagement. Companies that have a high number of home-based and remote employees often complain about the challenges in creating connectedness between employees and the company.
Cut off from the day-to-day vis-à-vis interactions with co-workers and customers, many extrovert employees don’t seem to fare well in a virtual work environment. However, companies need to put in extra efforts to keep remote workers engaged to ensure maximum productivity. COVID-19 pandemic has pushed the workforce into a remote working norm and is proving to be the harbinger of digital transformation across workplaces. As they say, “never waste a good crisis.”
Distributed Offices And Rotating Days
In a post-pandemic world, be prepared to witness the end of open-floor workplaces and the rise of small, private offices. For instance, until social distancing protocols are given some slack, huddle rooms can be used as individual offices. However, cellular office plans can limit workplace communication and impede company culture.
A better idea is to go for the distributed office set up. Instead of a crowded central hub, some companies are considering opening a distributed set of smaller offices in different areas that are accessible to all employees without having to use public transport. Having small groups of people working collaboratively would fill in the communication gap and result in improved mental health, all the while minimizing the risk of exposure.
Not to mention, as the economy reopens, many of us are still working from home so a staggered workforce may become standard in the long run. Expect to see a relaxation in shift times to avoid transport rush-hour peaks and smaller groups coming in on alternate days, instead of a crowded office space. With companies reopening left and right, management is determining who absolutely needs to be physically present at work and who can work from home without disruption in operations.
For starters, your company might only call in about 30% of employees, which provides the ultimate sweet spot for social distancing. In addition, companies might start subsidizing home offices to reduce the health impact from ergonomically inadequate set-ups now that home has become the next workplace for most workers.
Temperature checks of employees at arrival is becoming a new norm. In addition, companies are installing hand sanitizer stations at entrances to make sure employees disinfect their hands before entering the premises. Companies are also taping-off lifts to ensure safe social distancing, while some office are only keeping one-way systems in and out of buildings.
Not to mention, instead of dealing with hordes of employees queuing up to enter the workplace, a better idea to prevent the morning bottleneck is to phase the shift rotations, so they arrive over a two or three-hour period.
You could have three shifts, half hour apart, with some working from home. Most leaders agree that they best way to implement social distancing at workplaces is to keep high numbers of workers at home and work up some sort of a job retention scheme.
In the wake of the pandemic, companies are considering installing physical screens between workers.
Having employees face in opposite directions is an added safety measure. Some offices are even repurposing communal area such as meeting rooms to spread out workstations and put as much distance between employees as in possible within the office premises. Companies are also stressing on frequent cleaning of frequently touched surfaces, such as switches, door handles, photocopier buttons, handrails, and faucets. This is why a lot of companies are seen updating their contracts with cleaning staff.
Not to mention, companies are also providing personal protective equipment to all workers including gloves and masks, as well as ensuring it is used correctly. If, even after taking all safety precautions, companies still think there is that level of risk, they should not be asking people to return at all.
While your company might suggest small groups of people entering the canteen at a time to spread out seats, but even that would prove challenging to disinfect all the surfaces for the next wave of employees.
A better idea is to work with a ‘roundsman’ to bring food for all available workers or even cook onsite from an outdoor mobile unit. If your company is allowing food delivery, it is more prudent to do so with extra hygiene and contamination precautions in place.
Even though take-away outlets are fully functional again, it is not prudent for employees to spend their lunch break in a queue and run the risk of exposure. We might even see a shift towards home-cooked lunches in the near future.
Interaction With Clients
Perhaps the trickiest aspect of the virtual workplace will be engaging clients and prospects. While most companies have always relied on traditional face-to-face meetings, which are still deemed more courteous than a video or phone call, once people start to save time spent commuting to see clients and prospects, we will see a major shift towards tele meetings.
In fact, organizations are already starting to provide videoconference training sessions to their employees to use for clients, prospects, and others. However, the push toward virtual meetings won’t bid adieu to in-person meetings for good; we might even be seeing a blend of the two.