What a year this has been. A calamity hit the world on a scale so big that despite being three-quarters of the year in, no one has any idea how to deal with it.
The new normal
It should be clear by now that our lives aren’t going back to how they were just a year ago. The voices that called COVID-19 a hoax are dying out, and even the most skeptical of us now believe that the virus is an undeniable reality.
Everybody understands the risks. Everyone wants to stay safe. But at the same time, employees and businesses alike want to get back to work.
Working amidst an incurable global pandemic can be a challenge. But employers will have to find ways to ensure safe and secure office conditions for workers, to keep the wheels turning.
Remote working – a viable but short-term solution
With the nationwide lockdown, businesses were forced to look for other ways to keep running. One of them was allowing remote work. Working from home helped businesses and employees alike, with statistics showing a 47% rise in productivity. Employees were happy to work from their houses’ safety, and employers got the job done without putting their employees at risk.
It worked for a while. As the COVID-19 pandemic lingered on, this routine became dreary. More recent statistics show that the productivity gains seen during the initial phase of the lockdown are vanishing.
It seems reopening the offices is the way to go. So what will a workspace amidst the pandemic look like?
Technology will still play a big role
Minimizing physical interaction is the key to restrict the spread of the disease. Automation and technology have to come in to replace human contact wherever possible. Physical paper and hard documents will need to be entirely replaced with their electronic alternatives.
Tech will also play a role in monitoring and enforcing pandemic S.O.Ps. Temperature checking, crowd control, distance monitoring, and air quality management can be automated to ensure employees’ safety and health.
Moreover, video conferencing, AI-driven analytics, drones, and robots for disinfection, and blockchain-based contact tracing further strengthen safety measures. Augmented reality aids in training, while IoT-based feedback systems collect input from employees to improve safety measures continually.
Biometric authentication methods are used for secure and hygienic access. Other technologies include contactless access control systems, occupancy sensors for tracking real-time occupancy levels, UV-C disinfection for sanitizing surfaces and air, smart desks and workstations with IoT sensors to ensure physical distancing, and wearable devices for monitoring vital signs.
Workspace restructuring involves considering interior design office changes. This task includes evaluating your workspace’s current layout, functionality, and aesthetics. Key aspects to consider in this process include space utilization, furniture and furnishings, lighting, color schemes, noise control, ergonomics, technology integration, collaborative areas, privacy zones, storage solutions, sustainability, branding, accessibility, and long-term maintenance.
Some see the pandemic as a rare opportunity to completely reinvent the office space, which wouldn’t have been considered otherwise. Going forward, our workplaces will indeed look much different from how we have known them for the past few decades.
Restricting human interaction and minimizing airborne virus transfer will be the idea behind the redesigned office space. However, making employees work in the open air would expose them and sensitive office equipment to the elements, whereas making enclosed cubicles would turn offices into jails. Architects and engineers have several such challenges to overcome.
To address these challenges, a hybrid approach may be necessary. This could involve incorporating advanced HVAC systems with air purification technology to enhance indoor air quality. Additionally, flexible and modular workspace designs can adapt to changing needs, allowing for a mix of open and private work areas.
Collaborative zones with proper distancing measures and technology integration for remote work could be beneficial. Ensuring that office furniture and materials are easy to clean and sanitize is also crucial for maintaining a safe and hygienic workspace.
A decline in permanent hiring
As businesses suffered from lockdown, more and more employees were laid-off. However, if companies are to reopen, they’d need their working strength back.
The unpredictability of the virus cases and the second and third COVID waves have made it difficult to hire employees in permanent positions, not knowing when the lockdown might return.
Employers are looking to hire temporary workers instead. Contract-based employees wouldn’t need to be fired and re-hired. The management can simply choose not to renew their contract once they’re up.
With reopened offices, it is ultimately the responsibility of each individual to ensure their safety and that of their peers. Work culture will have to change. Some traditions need to be abandoned, and new ones need to be adopted, at least until a vaccine or cure arrives.