How Office Spaces will Continue to Change More Than a Year After The Pandemic
It’s been more than a year since the pandemic shutdown began. And in that time, the office, like the entire world, has changed — most likely forever.
But the changes we’ve seen to date are just the start; more are on the horizon. This was ever-present throughout May as the news cycle continued its coverage of companies and states pulling back their return to office plans.
As large companies grapple with bringing employees safely back to the workplace, small-to-medium business (SMB) owners have both advantages and disadvantages. They are usually more agile and can institute change more quickly than their larger counterparts, but their budgets and operational plans may not readily handle sudden shifts.
As a first step, small business owners must:
- Understand local government and building owner regulations
- Know what employees think
- Plan staggered work schedules to eliminate unnecessary in-person interactions
- Optimize floor space for maximum efficiency
- Maintain transparency with both management and employees
- Monitor operations and adjust their approach accordingly
As the country reopens, it’s important to recognize the world cannot return to “business as usual.”
Make teams feel safe
Even if a significant percentage of the population is vaccinated, not everyone can receive the vaccine. While the vaccine and the relaxation of government mandates will improve comfort, many people will remain cautious in public and group settings.
It’s not a matter of people wanting to return to the office. Instead, it’s about how safe they feel in the workplace.
To that end, business owners must explore policies that limit or reduce their offices’ capacities — even if only out of an abundance of caution. To help with this approach, they should deploy a distancing planner that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to create seating plans incorporating safe distances while making the best use of an office’s reduced seating capacity.
Consider hybrid options
Before the pandemic, it was somewhat taboo to delve too deeply into an employee’s current health. But the proliferation of COVID-19 means many small business owners should take a more vigilant approach to keep colleagues who may show even the slightest of symptoms away from the office.
Requiring health screenings — even if it’s just a questionnaire asking whether someone is exhibiting any symptoms of COVID — before entering the workplace will grow increasingly commonplace. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks, but local government mandates may still require them, and some businesses may still require them out of an abundance of caution.
The same goes for in-person meetings. Amid the pandemic, teams grew accustomed to video conferences and virtual gatherings. Even if employees return to working from a single location, the days of cramming dozens of people into a small conference room could be over.
To that end, business owners should consider implementing staggered schedules or hybrid offices where some people are in person and others remote. If everyone doesn’t have to be in the office every day, there is no need for them to be.
Technology today enables hybrid work options, allowing small business owners to keep the number of employees at a safe and manageable level.
Promote a healthier lifestyle
The most significant change out of the pandemic is likely to be employees’ relationships with their workspace. As a result, many companies will turn to technology, but any solution must have a practical purpose.
Business owners should be careful they don’t fall into the trap of turning to technology for the sake of it. Instead, they must deploy solutions that are beneficial to everyone — including their employees and office and HR managers — and those solutions must help them operate in a post-pandemic world.
Solutions such as a visual directory, automated room booking, or desk booking/hoteling scheduling must enable employees to go about their business and maintain productivity while eliminating unnecessary personal interactions.
Simultaneously, solutions must give small business owners and their leadership proxies control over what employees can and cannot do — whether booking a particular room or sitting too close to another colleague. It’s also about the tools that facilitate movement in the office and visualize different floorplans and scenarios.
Right now, the looming changes might seem monumental. But the changes we see today are likely to improve the office experience for years to come. Not all change is bad; business owners should embrace it.
If they do, they might just find a better way to approach the workday, and in the process, they’ll improve the experience for everyone.
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Funded, in part, through a Cooperative Agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration. All opinions, and/or recommendations expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SBA.