– Jack Vale is a writer with

If you started working from home in March, just as news of the COVID-19 pandemic spread in the United States, and you continue to be a digital employee, then you have spent nearly half a year sheltering at home.  Some of us have found a new-found freedom in our waist-up business attire, while others are itching to get back to the office for a little focused, quiet work time.

Whether you’re dreading the return to work or eager to get back at it, it’s likely that the new business “normal” will be anything but normal.

A report by Motus estimates over 10 billion square feet of office space has been left vacant by the COVID crisis.  While this means huge losses for businesses still paying for leases and overhead costs on office spaces, many companies are realizing that in the long run, paying less for running and supplying an office combined with the increased productivity of remote workers may well be more cost-effective.

CNN Business reports that “More than two-thirds (68%) of large company CEOs plan to downsize their office space, according to a survey released Tuesday by KPMG.”  Even if we see a vaccine then, the office as you knew it is probably a thing of the past.

Hybrid work environments

We’ve quickly adapted to working in an online environment, conducting interviews, holding meetings, attending conferences, and even hanging out by the water cooler in virtual space.  Some employees are happier and more productive working from home, and employers are discovering that virtual work means access to a deeper pool of applicants who can often be hired at a lesser cost.

There are advantages, however, to going to the office.  The relationships important to team camaraderie are built more quickly in a face-to-face work setting, and the collaborative thinking that leads to innovation develops better as well.  That means we will probably see more hybrid work situations where employees work remotely some of the time and in a traditional office setting the rest of the time.

Reconfigured Spaces

Some offices may downsize in response to hybrid situations, offering shared spaces where workers trade-off office time.  Others are likely to build more open and collaborative spaces to encourage the productive interactions we’ve all been missing from work.

There will be, of course, for a time, increased sanitary measures that will change the space long-term, such as touchless lighting, doors, bathroom fixtures, and more. You can also expect to see added space between workstations, less open concept layout, and more cubicle/plexiglass dividers.

Further hygiene-related measures might include the implementation of sanitizer units and hand-washing stations.

Outdoor thinking

One thing we’ve all realized the importance of since the pandemic began is how much we value being outside and able to move around.  New office spaces are likely to incorporate outdoor spaces into their designs–not only because it has proven safer for viral spread, but also because we’ve become accustomed to a little outdoors in our work lives.

Sitting on the deck with a computer in your lap has become commonplace for today’s employees.  The design may also bring a little of the outside inside.  Natural more humid air has proven to be less conducive to viral reproduction, so office designers are finding new ways to allow fresh air into workspaces.

Increased technology

Employers in large cities are saving money by hiring at lower salaries remote employees who live in areas with lower costs of living, so it’s not likely that those virtual meetings will be a thing of the past.  Expect to find quiet rooms with large monitors and easy access technology for those virtual presentations to coworkers and clients.

Increased automation

The increased use of technology has highlighted to employers the need to automate and rely on artificial intelligence rather than these frail human bodies that succumb to disease.  We’ve already seen a boom in the use of chat-bots in eCommerce to replace human workers.  Don’t expect that trend to go anywhere but up in the face of the coronavirus.

Adaptation has driven our work response to the covid crisis and we will continue to evolve as it continues.  And some near day in the future, after all the masks are gone and we can again comfortably stand next to each other, our workspaces will have changed too.  For worse or for better, who knows?  But different is almost certain.


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