This is the end of the office as we know it
The pandemic already pushed millions to work from home. Many of them will likely go back to a very different office.
If and when you return to your office after the novel coronavirus pandemic, you’ll probably notice some differences.
Upon entering your building, the doors may open automatically so you don’t have to touch the handles. Before you board your elevator, you might tell the elevator where you’d like to go, rather than pressing the many buttons within the elevator. When you reach your floor, you could walk into a room full of dividers and well-spaced desks instead of the crowded open floor plan you’re used to. In common areas like meeting rooms and kitchens, expect to see fewer chairs and posted documentation of the last time they were cleaned.
These are just the changes you can see. Less noticeable in the post-coronavirus office would be more frequent cleaning policies, antimicrobial properties woven into fabrics and materials, amped-up ventilation systems, or even the addition of UV lights for more deeply disinfecting the office at night.
Of course, this is all assuming you go back to your old office at all. As the coronavirus takes a steep toll on the economy and the workforce, many won’t have jobs to go back to. Some who are still employed will now permanently work from home, and some employers will choose to downsize their leases or look for flexible office space rather than long-term leases. Coworking spaces will probably never be what they once were as they forgo hot desks and communal spaces for more sanitary — and less profitable — private areas.
Many of these adjustments in office design are actually just accelerations of real estate trends that existed well before the pandemic. But just as policies around telehealth and liquor have quickly shifted, the Covid-19 crisis will force swift and permanent changes in both commercial real estate and work culture itself. The office as we know it will never be the same.
Working from home will be the new normal for many
According to a new MIT report, 34 percent of Americans who previously commuted to work report that they were working from home by the first week of April due to the coronavirus. That’s the same percentage of people who can work from home, according to a recent University of Chicago publication.
These new numbers represent a seismic shift in work culture. Prior to the pandemic, the number of people regularly working from home remained in the single digits, with only about 4 percent of the US workforce working from home at least half the time. However, the trend of working from home had been gaining momentum incrementally for years, as technology and company cultures increasingly accommodated it. So it’s also likely that many Americans who are now working from home for the first time will continue to do so after the pandemic.
“Once they’ve done it, they’re going to want to continue,” said Kate Lister, president of consulting firm Global Workplace Analytics, which is currently running a survey about work-from-home participation. She predicts that 30 percent of people will work from home multiple days per week within a couple of years. Lister added that there has been pent-up demand by employees for greater work-life flexibility, and that the coronavirus has made their employers see the light, especially as they themselves have had to work from home.
“It had been proven prior to this, but a lot of company management and leaders showed great skepticism,” Steve King, partner at small-business consulting firm Emergent Research, told Recode. “That skepticism will go away because companies recognize that remote work does work.”