The Post COVID-19 Office

It is all over the news globally. Office buildings lie empty. Occupancy rates have fallen off the cliff. Those who do go to offices in essential services are confronted with bottlenecks at the lobbies and receptions, waiting for their temperature to be taken and for filling up long health declaration forms. Floors are littered with markers for safe distancing and lifts access are controlled to encourage limited usage.

The coronavirus pandemic is a black swan event that has caught all of us unaware of its impact. It has forced businesses, cities and whole countries to make rapid changes to their normal way of life. Business will no longer be as usual once the lock-down is eased and people start coming to office.

Here, we look at what are the changes that will happen when offices open up after the lock down.

The Reception

The reception is the most susceptible place in the office space with lots of foot traffic and random interactions between strangers.  It is essential to have measures in place to ensure that it is safe and clean. The reception will have additional tools and technologies to assist in attending to visitors.

Firstly, the visitors will have to confront a receptionist donning a face mask. This can be quite uncomfortable to many when they walk in, but will have to become accepted practice.

Thermal cameras will have to be used for checking the temperature of visitors who arrive at the reception. These can be installed in locations where there is a lot of foot traffic such as building lobbies. For individual offices, the receptionists will be tasked with having to take the temperature of the visitor prior to attending to them.

Visitors will have to submit a mandatory health declaration forms as part of the registration process.

Hand-sanitizers will need to become mandatory usage. Visitors will have to dis-infect their hands prior and after interacting with any of the items in the reception such as tablets, kiosks or desk.

Frequent cleaning of touch points such as tablets, door handles, desks and seating areas with disinfectants will become part of the operational procedures for cleaning personnel.


Meetings & Gathering

Meetings will be more controlled and limited. Unless absolutely necessary, staff will be encouraged to conduct meetings using remote video conferencing and team based collaboration tools to communicate and exchange information. While many of the modern office use video conferencing systems, a large part of the business are still working under traditional face-to-face meetings. This will have to change as the pandemic will force organizations to accept such meetings as the new normal compared to when not meeting face-to-face creates doubt on the credibility of the parties.

Meetings will become more focused and only key persons involved in the topics of discussion will need to attend.

For the physical meetings, policies on attendees per meeting will have to be set to ensure safe distancing measures are in place. The general consensus is that, there should be 6 feet of separation between participants when sitting together.

Seating Arrangements

Open plan office spaces are vulnerable to spreading of infection as people sit together in close quarters. Changes such as safe distancing will have to be implemented so that there is sufficient space between people seated in the same desk.

Barriers

While setting up barriers involves changes to the design of the office space, there could be a rise in pseudo-open office spaces where partial partitions are setup or separation using transparent materials such as Plexiglas to contain dispersion of air. There is even a possibility of having cubicles or enclosed spaces that can contain the spread of infection.

Air-Quality & Circulation

Buildings and offices may invest or in new technologies or upgrade their existing systems to improve air quality. HVAC systems may be upgraded to have better exhaust and more flow of outside air with lesser re-circulation. Buildings may also perform more frequent cleaning of the air-ducts. Exhausts may be upgraded to flush out air during weekends or down times.  While these may happen at the building level and is a big investment, tenants may undertake their own measures such as installing air-purifiers, ionizers and ventilation measures.

Conclusion

The world of work will never be the same again in the future. Naturally, once the pandemic is over and becomes a distant memory, people may go back to their usual way of conducting business. But norms and practices will change. The lock down period is long enough to have new habits and the impact of experiencing an unprecedented black swan event will change many aspects of our business. For the near future, incorporating these measures will greatly help businesses in changing how they operate.

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