- Employers need to redesign workspaces for safety and to encourage collaboration and a positive culture
- New, activity-based working schemes can be adapted for post-pandemic office life
- “Staggered workforce” models will drive office design
Since the pandemic began, 6 in 10 American companies have hired new employees, many of whom have not met their colleagues in person or set foot in the office. While remote work will likely be part of the work mix for the foreseeable future—94% of companies report their workers are as or more productive compared to pre-pandemic times—the office experience has been on hold.
As vaccines roll out and employees begin returning to the office in increasing numbers, many companies are plotting return-to-work strategies to safeguard their people. But the office that employees return to may not feel, or function, like the one they left in early 2020, as employers focus on creating work environments with pandemic-level health protocols.
“We’re throwing out formulaic approaches and asking, ‘what is the purpose of the office?’” says Hannah Hackathorn, design principal at Unispace, a global leader in activity-based work design. “We’re realizing that a huge part of it is social contact. People want to be around people.”
Balancing social distancing and social interaction is complex. In the early days of the pandemic, companies with essential workers implemented basic protective measures like regular disinfection wipedowns, plastic sneeze guards, floor markings for physical distancing, one-way hallways, and, of course, the ubiquitous bottles of hand sanitizer.
Designers like Hackathorn understand there is much room to improve on those early-pandemic measures. The bigger picture includes: