There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted greatly on the way we work and live. Across the globe, employees have been forced or encouraged to work remotely home, and many offices have shut for weeks or even months.
With many countries planning to reopen their economies, and some are already relaxing restrictions, we are now thinking of what offices will need to look like when businesses return to work. The continuing risk of transmission and concerns about a “second wave” of the pandemic, offices will need to take new and special measures. Here’s what we can expect when we return to the office.
Social Distancing Measures
The first big change we will see in offices as they reopen is the implementation of social distancing measures, similar to those that we are currently using when we go to the supermarket. Team members will likely be required to keep a 1.5 meter (6 feet) distance from each other at all times, and to wear facemasks while in the office and during their commute.
This kind of physical distancing has wide-ranging implications and means that every workplace situation needs to be reconsidered. It may seem fairly straight-forward to keep 1.5 metres away from others when sitting at your desk, though this may require some reorganisation in some offices. But there are many other situations that may be harder to achieve this, from meetings and taking the lift, to carpooling and office cafeterias or break rooms.
Strict Health Policies
Another change we are set to see in the near future is that offices will institute very strict health policies. Some workplaces will likely do regular temperature checks to make sure that employees are not unwell, and they may even do COVID-19 testing in some cases and if this is available.
Another important measure that offices can take to limit their risks of the transmission of the virus is to strictly enforce policies that make sure employees stay at home if they are well. We know that COVID-19 is highly infectious, and therefore workplaces should be forcing all employees to stay home if they or anyone close to them is displaying symptoms, and to not return to work for at least three days after symptoms have passed.
We can also expect offices to introduce top-level hygiene measures. This will include not only stepping up their regular cleaning schedule throughout the office and common areas but also making sure staff members carry out exemplary hygiene on an individual level. This will likely include new hygiene policies, training for employees, and supplying hand sanitiser dispensers throughout the office and particularly in common areas or around common surfaces.
New Types of Access Control
Many offices rely on access control technology such as pin pads and key cards to make sure only authorised people are allowed into specific areas or the office in general. This is important to allow staff and authorised visitors easy access while protecting the business’ assets and the security of everyone on site. However, these kinds of tools represent a huge transmission risk: something like a keypad which dozens of people touch every day could spread COVID-19 rapidly.
Because of this, we will see a large scale changeover to touchless access control methods that allow offices to protect their premises without anyone needing to touch anything, and therefore maintain necessary hygiene. This may be an app on your smartphone that activates an entry point, or a reader that can be unlocked with a wave of the hand.
Touchless Office Design
The implementation of touchless technologies will not be limited to access control. There are many objects and points around the office that workers touch frequently, and all of these represent risks for COVID-19 transmission.
- Light or power switches
- Door handles
- Door push panels
- Water coolers
- Office equipment such as photocopiers
- Kitchen items such as kettles, microwaves and fridges
Businesses will be quickly looking for ways that they can replace these with touchless items to reduce the risk of spreading the virus. This will include technology such as sensor lights instead of light switches and automatic or sensor doors.
More Flexible Work Locations
Additionally, even as many people return to work in the office, it is unlikely that all employees will return to working from the office, or at least not do so full time. Working from home is ultimately the best way to make sure employees isolate, and therefore many offices will choose to allow or even encourage their workers to do so.
This will vary greatly from business to business, and will also depend on employees’ individual situations. However, we are likely to see many employees working from home at least part of the time and only coming into the office when they need to.