By Dave Clifton
Content Strategy Specialist

From remote work to workplace distancing, COVID-19 forced changes in the way we work. Many of these changes will linger post-coronavirus and continue to affect how, where, and when we do certain types of work. Change ripples outward, which means our adaptations to the pandemic will facilitate even more changes. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the soon-to-be post-COVID-19 workplace.

Changes in how we work necessitate changes in the workplace. Whether it’s the complete lack of a physical workplace due to a telecommuting migration or a modified version of a familiar workplace, facility managers need to thoroughly consider the workplace of the future. What’s going to change and why? How can FMs adapt the current workplace to the one their employees need to stay safe and productive?

Start by looking at the workplace from three important standpoints: physical space, processes and policies, and technologies. Look at their relation to COVID-19 to determine what the future of each looks like and how they add up to a cumulative post-coronavirus workplace.

Post-COVID-19 physical workplace changes

How will the workplace change after COVID-19? In a physical sense, we may not see as much radical change as people think. The reason being, workplaces are already set up to accommodate space and social distancing.

If distance and health-minded interactions govern the workplace of the future, the goal will be collaboration with space built-in. open concept floor plans already offer this. With a few modifications to concepts like benching, neighborhoods, and breakout spaces, it’s likely the workplace of the future looks similar to what we enjoy today. If anything, antiquated offices are likely to modernize in order to put space between their workers.

The most radical physical change we’re likely to see is the implementation of panel systems and reconfigurable dividers. When employees need to create space, they can; otherwise, it’s an open environment with broad accessibility.

New policies for the post-COVID-19 era

More dramatic than physical changes to the office post-COVID-19 will be the policy changes. Expect workplace distancing to stick around, along with some of the new habits borne of it. We’re likely to see Zoom conference calls between people sitting a few hundred feet from each other, rather than a group cooped up in a conference room, for example.

Sanitary practices are likely to stick around too, in addition to employee self-screening policies. “If you’re sick, don’t come to work” is and will continue to be the mantra. We’re also likely to see a rise in employer-sponsored wellness programs that perpetuate the idea of happy, healthy, safe workers.

Many organizations will use COVID-19 as an opportunity to mobilize their workforce. Whether it’s another pandemic or a natural disaster that ifies the physical workplace, employers now see the need for plug-and-play telecommuting options.

Adapting new technologies after COVID-19

Demand for remote work during the coronavirus pandemic shed an intense spotlight on the need for modern digital resources and technologies. Overnight, companies adopted platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Slack, and Asana to help their teams work from home. Not only have those adoptions remained, they’ve become (and will continue to become) more robust as companies build out an agile digital infrastructure.

Strategies for post-COVID-19 workplace agility hinge largely on technology adoption. Computer Aided Facilities Management (CAFM) software might help you plan an adaptive layout during the next pandemic. Messaging and chat software will help teams collaborate. Cloud storage and document sharing apps make critical files available at all times. These technologies and others like them will shape the workplace by expanding it beyond walls.

Radical changes to the future of work

The biggest changes to the workplace post-COVID-19 aren’t likely to take place in the workplace at all. As companies discover efficient work-from-home solutions, they’re likely to scale back their investment in the workplace entirely. Twitter has already paved the way—employees can work from home indefinitely, according to the company.

While the workplace isn’t likely to disappear altogether, expect companies to get smarter about how they use space. For example, a company may choose a smaller, more expensive location in a culturally-diverse area to bring that ambiance to its employees. Likewise, companies may reduce the total number of locations they operate and relocate to more central areas without alienating their employees. The workplace will continue its shift to quality over quantity.

Conjecture becomes reality

The coronavirus pandemic caused rapid business disruption, which facilitated rapid adaptation. Now, as businesses reopen and employees come back to work, there’s a new sense of urgency in getting things right. It’ll take time to establish the ideal workplace in a post-COVID-19 world, but an understanding of important trends and nuances helps.

Consider physical, social, and technological changes incurred during COVID-19 and extrapolate them out. What reactive changes will become proactive ones for the future? Start there and shape a workplace that promotes productivity with the health and wellness of employees top of mind.

Keep reading: Coronavirus resources for Employees and Employers

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