With so many phrases and terms being thrown at us every day relating to COVID-19, it’s enough to keep our heads spinning for a while. The most prominent term being discussed is social distancing – the entire world now recognizes the importance of staying six feet apart from one another. Even though our entire planet is going through this crisis together, we are all in very different stages of pandemic life. But as we begin to visualize life after COVID-19 and re-emerge into society again, we need to start thinking about the new normal and how we will adjust. The “six-feet rule” isn’t going away anytime soon and we must all come to terms with how critical it is to normalize this guideline into everyday life.
Government-mandated lock-down orders to help contain the spread of the virus have radically changed how and where people work, with millions switching from the office to the dining room and meetings moving to video conference. As restrictions are relaxed, offices are being redesigned to minimize transmission risk and prevent a second wave of coronavirus cases. Imagine one-way corridors, buffer zones around desks, and clear plastic screens to guard against coughs or sneezes becoming the new office standards after stay-at-home orders have been lifted.
International real estate company Cushman & Wakefield has come up with a workplace design concept to help initiate the new model of office life. The concept uses social distancing guidelines to keep areas around desks empty. A prototype in the company’s Amsterdam office shows clients how spaces can be newly configured. Changes could be hard to adapt to for workers who are used to the social interactions in modern open-plan offices, and research shows that the more isolation that employees experience, or perceive, has a negative impact on their satisfaction with work and overall mental well-being.
Employers are seeing the immense benefits of remote working during the pandemic and some companies, like Nationwide, have already taken the plunge to make it a part of their permanent work culture. Many companies are performing much better than they predicted at the beginning of the crisis, with employees stating they are getting more work done, feeling more productive, and managing a better work-life balance.
When and if you return from remote work, let’s acknowledge that there are big and small adjustments we can make to improve sanitation and safety in the workplace. While the full impact of COVID-19 on work and the workplace has yet to be determined, it is clear the pandemic’s lingering effects will leave a trail of uncertainty as we navigate a new normal. A silver living of our forced isolation is that is has given us a lot of time to think more strategically about our environments. Let’s use this time to make them better.