How Will the Post-Pandemic Workplace Look Like in 2021

Companies are already preparing for the return to offices. While for many it is still unclear how and when to come back, one thing is certain: the post-pandemic workplace will hardly look like the one we left behind.

private workstations with room dividers

Just like our personal habits, the crisis is likely to shape our working routine. And the biggest change facing the post-pandemic workplace is physical distancing. For many companies, it will be the opposite of what they are used to. Many modern offices were designed around connection and teamwork. As a result, businesses existed in open-plan spaces with no boundaries and little privacy. But after the pandemic, people might be scared to come back to a place like that. And it will be the task of employers to make them feel safe and happy in the new working reality.

Social distancing through office design

As a starting point, companies will have to ensure social distancing at work. Office desks have shrunk over the years, but now we will evidence the reverse trend. We will see higher requirements to the minimum office area per person. As a result, many companies won't be able to maintain their usual occupancy. Simply because they don't have enough room to accommodate everyone with the new social distancing standards. Individual desks will be spaced out. Hot-desking is likely to disappear or take a different form. Shared workstations will have lower occupancy to comply with the 6 ft rule.  

Consequently, similar changes will happen in every part of the workplace. For instance, employers will have to make sure that common areas are not too crowded. Canteens and meeting rooms will accommodate a limited number of people, depending on the room size. This means that many areas will become more spacious - part of the furniture will be removed to control the maximum occupancy. 

Floor plans are also likely to change. They will be redesigned with special attention to traffic flow. Every office will need to rethink their layout to ensure that people don't bump into each other. As a result, more space will be dedicated to pathways, along with signage creating a one-way movement. 

All these measures will inevitably have an impact on furniture choice. The crisis made many companies realise that their workplace is not adaptable enough. As a result, some will take measures to make offices more flexible. Easily movable and modular furniture will help to accommodate the new layout. Also, we will likely see more partitioning, such as workplace dividers and movable screens

office design with desk dividers

Increased sanitary measures

Hygiene will definitely be high on the list. Not only personal hygiene but also the sanitary policies in the office. Regular cleaning procedures will increase and companies will look for the extra measures, like anti-bacterial surfaces. Also, the shared-use objects, like towels and dishes, are likely to be removed from the office. Instead, there will be more disposable supplies. Eventually, more offices will switch to automatic doors and smart sensor systems in bathrooms. Air quality systems will probably become a necessity.

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The new approach to office architecture 

After all, the new reality will shape the architectural design. Some companies will be forced to retrofit their offices at a more radical level. The new buildings will be constructed with consideration of a 1.5-meter (or 6 feet) rule. Arjun Kaicker from Zaha Hadid Architects predicts that spaces will not flow into each other so much anymore. 

 “I think we’ll see wider corridors and doorways, more partitions between departments, and a lot more staircases.”

The need for social distancing marks the start of a reverse trend, moving architecture away from the open-plan layout. It’s hard to say how far it will go; maybe, the closed-plan office will be our new reality.


The post-pandemic working order 

But office design is only the first step, it won’t happen alone. Social distancing measures will be backed by rules and regulations. In a way, we are developing a brand-new working etiquette. Physical contacts will be limited, greetings and formal communication will change. Maybe, we won’t be shaking hands anymore. Time will tell, but some companies are already taking measures to bring their employees back to the office. 

According to Washington Post, Goldman Sachs is considering adding infrared body temperature scanners to some of their offices. IBM is staggering arrival times so elevators don’t become too crowded. Intel has planned a three-phase return for employees who have been working from home. Combined with a new layout, routing and cleaning, all these measures will help companies create a safer post-pandemic workplace. 

Cushmann & Wakefield, the global real estate firm, even developed the concept of a post-pandemic workplace. Called “6 Feet Office”, it helps companies implement the 6-feet rule into their work routine. As Jeroen Lokerse from Cushmann & Wakefield puts it: 

“We started the 6 Feet Office Project with the ambition to get the world safer and back at work sooner. We believe that a safe and healthy workplace is at the center of what’s next in business”

Working schedule will probably change as well. The standard 9-to-5 working times for the might not be the best solution. People will enter and leave the office at the same time, creating high traffic at the elevators and entrances. As a result, we can expect a growing number of people working in shifts.

work schedule on paper In the nearest future, physical meetings will be an exception, rather than a commonplace. A business meeting, as we know it, will only happen when really needed and with a limited number of people involved. As a result, many physical encounters will be replaced by video conferences and phone calls. This also raises a question about the destiny of different sorts of meeting rooms that every modern office has. Some of them could be transformed into workstations to safely accommodate more employees. 

Lastly, the pandemic showed that many people can (and prefer to) work from home. Maybe, some of them won’t be willing to come back to the office anymore. This is another reason for employers to reconsider their office design - if more and more people will telecommute, what can be done with the free space?

While we can’t always predict what the future will bring, it is important to prepare for it already now. Learn how can you get your office ready for the post-pandemic reality in our next article

checklist for COVID-19 office design