By Reagan Nickl
Director of Partner and Customer Success
SpaceIQ

COVID-19 has caused unprecedented change in the world. Nothing else in the modern age has shut down nations like this pandemic, or caused as much disruption in such a short amount of time.

At the center of it all are more than 26 million Americans without jobs. It’s a number that might be much higher if not for remote work technologies. This is a stress test for the American economy, and a prelude to COVID-19 and the workplace of the future.

While it’s seemingly undeniable that the future of work rests in telecommuting, there are some jobs that don’t support remote work. An assembly engineer can’t put a product together from the comfort of a coffee shop. Government employees can’t handle sensitive data from their home computers. The workplace will continue to exist past the coronavirus pandemic. The question is: In what capacity?

Here’s a look at some of the predictions surrounding COVID-19 and the workplace of the future:

Workplace distancing restores personal space

Coronavirus has shed a light on the importance of personal space—not only for comfort, but health and wellness. No employer wants their workplace to turn into a petri dish when flu season rolls around. This pandemic is a cautionary tale against packing people like sardines into a workplace.

While we’re already far removed from the cubicle farms of the 1990s, the workplace of the future will embrace personal space even more. Specifically, it’ll support the flexibility of employees to make their own personal workspace. Expect to see a rise in diverse spaces—benching, breakout spaces, agile areas, and other multi purpose spaces. Employees will have the freedom to get up and move around, to make their own personal space when things around them get crowded. There won’t be set square footages per employee in the post-COVID workplace—rather, distance on-demand.

Regardless of how the workplace of the future looks, space management will be a priority. Facility managers will need to make sure total workplace square footage aligns with usage and utilization rates on a per-employee level. It confirms the recent shift in thought from “How many employees can my workplace accommodate?” to “How much space do my employees need?”

Remote work adoption sticks around

Remote work adoption has been on the uptrend over the last decade. With COVID-19, telecommuting is the only bridge between continued operations and a shutdown for many companies. Forced adoption of remote work might just be the catalyst it needs to become the new norm. Needless to say, the workplace of the future might not be a physical one at all.

We’ve covered the idea of a digital workplace extensively, and it appears truer than ever that work has transcended physical space. As more companies realize the benefits of remote work during COVID-19, it’s more and more likely they’ll maintain adoption after the pandemic ends. For many businesses, remote work has allowed them to run leaner with minimal disruption during the pandemic. Add in overhead savings and it’s a no-brainer for companies to reduce their workplace size and increase their remote workforce.

This isn’t to say that remote work will kill the physical workplace. Instead, companies with physical workplaces will enjoy more flexibility in the types of floor plans they create. Fewer full-time, in-house employees affords more room for intimate collaboration and immersive workspace design. Instead of ongoing lease costs to worry about, companies are more likely to make upfront investments in the quality of their space.

New work habits create lasting changes

Social distancing governs how we interact with each other and the physical workplace during COVID-19. Expect some of these habits to engrain themselves in the workplace of the future. Employees will surely go back to shaking hands and congregating around the coffee machine, but they’ll think twice when it comes to other old habits.

Expect fewer in-person meetings in the future. Conference rooms will fade in importance as we all become accustomed to Zoom meetings and video chats. Not only is it easier for employees to fire up their webcam for a meeting, it also eliminates time spent looking for an open conference room and walking to it—a huge source of time waste on larger campuses.

We’re also more likely to see a more agile workforce post-COVID. Those who remain in-house during the pandemic need to be nimble to avoid clustering and grouping, which means exploring more areas of the workplace. As one area gets crowded, employees disperse to less-populated areas. The result is newfound agility that’ll stay with them. Where they might’ve entrenched themselves in one type of work, employees forced out of their comfort zone will realize their ability to be productive in many ways, throughout the workplace.

The workplace continues to spin changes

In many ways, the coronavirus pandemic is the catalyst for workplace changes we’ve been inching toward for years now. Remote work has grown in the last decade, as has cognizant management of space under metrics like utilization and efficiency. COVID-19 is pushing us to more quickly embrace new trends.

Thankfully, they’re not a far leap from the direction we’re already headed in. The workplace of the future doesn’t look too different than we’ve imagined it—even if it contains fewer people.

Keep reading: COVID-19 Workplace Resources