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Three Ways the Coronavirus Pandemic Will Change How Employees Work: Part I

The last few months have been unprecedented in our personal and work lives. Businesses are closed, employees are working from home and homeschooling has become the norm. But looking beyond the present, what will change as we return back to our workplaces? Here are some aspects that companies may look to revamp.

Working From Home Will Become More Common

This isn’t all that surprising, considering many employees have already been doing this for the last two months during the coronavirus pandemic. Many experts say that working remotely isn’t a “trend” anymore and that it’s already the norm—remote work has grown 91% over the past decade, and roughly 62% of employees between ages 22 and 65 say that they work remotely at least occasionally.

“You might even have people that are happier because they have the work-life balance they want, and maybe they’ll stay [with a company] longer,” says Michelle Schildgen, director of interior design and branding for Sketchworks Architecture. “We’ll also see that it’s actually quite possible to do the majority of what we do from home—we just proved it. [But] it’ll also show us what technology needs to be invested in, and what things didn’t go well working from home.”

Companies May Downsize Their Offices

“Overall the trend is that we don’t need as much space on our desks and therefore, we can have smaller desks that are more ergonomic and functional,” says Schildgen. After the pandemic has ended, “hot desking,” or small communal workstations that can be used by multiple employees (similar to what you’d see in a coworking space) are a way companies can lessen some square footage. “With more people working from home, fewer desks are actually occupied. Companies can set up hot desk stations and spread them throughout the office.” (Schildgen points out in the immediate aftermath of people returning to the office, workstations may be moved temporarily if possible to allow for better social distancing). And, because of the coronavirus pandemic, having a rolling cart with antibacterial wipes and cleaning supplies will be imperative so that every communal desk gets properly cleaned at the beginning and end of every day.

“This can be a daily routine for unassigned workers, to make the desk theirs by properly cleaning it and settling in for the day. Whether at your usual workstation or at a hot desking station, sanitizing is going to be more frequent,” she points out.

Also, with most companies digitizing their files and records in cloud-based apps and programs, there isn’t a need for physical file storage, which factors into square footage needs. “If you’re paperless, you probably don’t need as much storage like bookcases and filing cabinets as by the time people go back there to get files—it’s probably outdated anyway,” says Schildgen.

Businesses May Invest More in Common Spaces

By reallocating square footage from workstations and storage space, a company has more opportunities to add amenity spaces and casual meeting zones—and the cost savings in those areas allow for more spending in common spots as well. Think: smaller conference rooms for breakout sessions, comfortable lounge spots and plaza areas where employees can grab a cup of coffee together. (Post-coronavirus peak, Schildgen does note that communal spaces may temporarily be used less frequently if they don’t allow for social distancing.)

“Employees want to feel like they have a relationship with their leaders and coworkers. People may think [after the coronavirus pandemic], ‘We can all just work remotely, and we’ll be just fine.’ We can do that—but we need the togetherness of a team and more innovation happens when you’re together—not apart. So these spaces allow for those quality interactions,” says Schildgen.

Working from home for over two months may have left people starved for collaboration and interaction—so they’ll find comfort in these spaces that encourage togetherness (again, after social distancing guidelines are over). Schildgen also points out that investing in the quality of the physical office building means that “you can have a great-looking and more functional office for when people do come into work for a more flexible environment.”

Part II: Coming soon