Image credits: Damir Kopezhanov
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News Article

Back to the Office: What to Expect and How to Prepare

By Cas Biekmann | Fri, 05/15/2020 - 17:25

In Mexico, the government is already planning for a return to economic activity. This move, no doubt, will make people wonder about what this will look like. After all, worker safety is essential to protect one’s employees. The return to the office will be marked by a “new normal.” For it to work, certain factors will need to be adapted, potentially leading to long-lasting changes in how we approach and do our work. What can people expect and how can offices be prepared for this move?

BBC Worklife interviewed Albert De Plazaola, Global Strategy Director at design firm Unispace. “We may have lived with the flu for many years but this is the first time our generation has experienced a pandemic. We are now hyperaware of health risks, whether real or imagined. Employers are hypersensitive about the potential for liability if people get sick at work,” he said. While this consciousness will seep into people’s minds and thus into their actions, De Plazoala does believe that companies will look for more technical solutions, in the form of “surgical interventions,” instead of investing a lot of money into long-term solutions. This is mostly because many companies expect COVID-19 to not last forever. Soon enough, herd immunity will occur or a vaccine will be created.

This point of view can be contrasted with information coming from the World Economic Forum (WEF). Here, the argument is made that organizations should plan how to adapt offices to comply with social distancing rules. The forum even suggests that design needs to be taken int account and mentions how real estate company Cushman & Wakefield has designed an office where workers can keep 6ft apart at all times. Bigger spaces between workers could reverse a trend where workplaces are becoming smaller and more flexible. Technology can play a large part as well, where for instance it can be used to open doors automatically so people have to touch fewer surfaces.

But even without redesigning, offices can take plenty of measures that would make office space safer. One major factor aiding in making the work-floor safer is the notion that less people will be there in the first place. With PwC’s research showing that 64 percent of Mexico’s CFOs are planning to make home office a permanent fixture in their company, at least for certain positions, there will be less people that would need protective measures to begin with. If people do need to show up to the office, preference can be given to those who live close enough to walk or cycle or to those who have their own car and do not have to rely on public transport.

Other simple solutions to implement are suggested by WEF as well: keeping desks clean with disinfectants and hand gel, for instance, as well as creating ‘road markings’ using stickers to direct the flow of those walking around the office. Something as simple as changing the way we greet our coworkers and clients can have a large impact as well. All that would have to happen is to replace the traditional handshake with a polite nod or a touching of elbows and shoes. All in all, there are many different ways to address the new normal. All it takes are some simple precautions and a slight change in behavior to make working as safe as it was before.

The data used in this article was sourced from:  
BBC Worklife, World Economic Forum
Photo by:   Damir Kopezhanov
Cas Biekmann Cas Biekmann Journalist and Industry Analyst