The Pandemic has brought many changes in its wake, giving rise to a new phrase in our vocabulary: the new normal. As people start returning to work, the office will see a lot of changes coming into effect.
Making the place where we work Pandemic-proof be a challenge. It will require new working patterns that put employee safety and hygiene at the heart of workplace planning. Here are some measures that have been put into effect or are being planned.
Use of masks and gloves: Wearing masks during office hours will continue to be a requirement. Gloves will also be required especially when touching surfaces. A supply of masks and gloves will be made available as needed.
Temperature checks: Employees will need to go through temperature checks on entering the office. Body scanners for employees to pass through may also be installed.
Organizing for social distancing: The office layout will need to be adapted to ensure social distancing. This may mean re-thinking the open plan concept to ensure there’s enough separation between colleagues. More separate enclosures or private offices will be seen.
Shared office spaces in Bangalore have already been re-designed to conform to social norms. Shared offices in Bangalore have the protection of an additional panel or ‘sneeze guard’ between socially distanced desks. Conference rooms in Bangalore have been re-aligned for meetings in smaller groups with on-line video meetings taking the place of live meetings with many participants as far as possible, to reduce exposure to the virus.
Eliminating circuitous routes: The design of the office would need to be altered to eliminate circuitous routes to different departments and long corridors where there is a chance of closer contact between people.
Staggered workforce: Smaller groups coming in to work on alternate days or in shifts will be a recommended option. Those for whom it is not essential to come to the office may continue to work from home for a considerable time still.
Distributed offices: A crowded central hub housing many people may give way to the idea of a distributed set of smaller offices that may be closer to where staff live and reduce exposure in public transport.
New materials for counters and desktops: Durable materials that can withstand heavy cleaning will take the place of porous surfaces like wood. Surfaces with stone or laminates will be preferred for counters.
Handwashing made easier: Handwashing will become a ritual for anyone entering the office. Reception and common areas will need to be fitted out with sinks and hand sanitizers will be made readily available.
Reduction of contact: There will be a move to reduce contact with others in the office and eliminate the need to press communal buttons. Voice-activated technology may be activated to control lighting, audio-visual equipment, and other devices.
Short-term fixes, long term design upgrades, and new working patterns will change the face of the office as we currently know it. Even when a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available, the experience of living through a Pandemic is bound to have a long-lasting impact on the way people work and the way the workplace functions. The greater focus on health and hygiene will help boost employee confidence and allay fears, providing a sense of safety and security.