Plexiglas Shields and Temperature Sscreenings. Workspace Changes Won't Look Too Radical, But They May Feel Invasive

What the new workplace may look like post-COVID-19 — and why the office isn't going away any time soon

From Palo Alto Online

In a concept design by Cushman & Wakefield, the new office space post-pandemic could include Plexiglas sneeze guards and floor demarcations encouraging physical distance. Courtesy Cushman & Wakefield.

The COVID-19 pandemic may usher in a slew of unexpected changes to the new workspace — but a desk with a sneeze guard?

Small tweaks like this will be the new norm for many organizations looking to put workers back into the office, said Antonia Cardone, senior managing director of workplace strategy and change management at Cushman & Wakefield, a global commercial real estate company.

An invisible yet highly infectious threat, the coronavirus has forced companies to be more proactive in ensuring employees' health and safety in ways that go deeper than protection from sharp objects and fire hazards.

"We used to think of safety as being a very visible, tactile sort of risk," Cardone said. "We used to think of health and well-being as being something that the individual took care of themselves: Are you fit; are you exercising; are you eating well, etc.?"

Now more than ever before, employers must think in granular detail about how workers interact within the workplace environment and how they can be protected while in it — everything from the objects they touch to the meeting rooms in which they convene.

But the office of the near future won't look radically different.

Plexiglas shields, occupancy limits in meeting rooms and elevators, signage and floor markings encouraging 6-foot physical distance, and the temporary death of buffet-style cafeterias are some of the physical changes that employees can expect in the foreseeable future, Cardone said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recently published a comprehensive guide on what employers and workers should do to safely re-enter office buildings, many of which are similar to Cushman & Wakefield's proposals.

The recommendations are extensive — from increasing outdoor airflow through heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems and rearranging employees' work shifts to replacing "high-touch communal items" such as coffee makers and snacks with "pre-packaged, single-serving items" and wearing face masks, according to the CDC guidelines.

"I think in the short term, we will use (offices) slightly differently, but most organizations will leave it mostly as it is," Cardone said.

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.