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Coronavirus may have killed the open-space office concept, but could it have also paved the way for more innovative and efficient work practices?
Modern, open-space offices were designed to usher in a new era of accessibility and collaboration. Yet, what no one could have anticipated, was that without the four walls of closed offices or cubicles, open-space offices were inadvertently designed to usher in something far more ominous: mass, rapid contamination.

The coronavirus pandemic has sent many cities around the world into lockdown. Scores of businesses and organizations have been forced to shutter their doors, with those fortunate enough for their employees to continue to work from home remaining afloat. The goal: practice social distancing, keep the novel virus from spreading and preserve human lives.

But what will office life look like in the coronavirus’ aftermath? How might office spaces be redesigned to enable social distancing and prevent infection, once stay-at-home orders are no longer in effect, and the businesses & organizations around the world scramble to pick up where they left off, jumpstart the economy, and scale?

A gradual return to a “new normal”

As coronavirus restrictions begin to be lifted, it has become clear that life as we knew it has been replaced with a “new normal.” As the threat of infection continues to loom and neither a vaccine nor a treatment protocol have yet to be made available to the public, social distancing practices must continue to be upheld. And since it is virtually impossible to keep two meters between workers in open-space offices, the work setting, once hailed for enabling quick communication and elevating company culture while being most cost-effective, will have to be reimagined.
But that’s okay, it was only garnering mixed reviews at best.

When asked about what matters to them most in a work environment, 95% of employees claimed that the ability to work privately reigned supreme, even though just 41% of them could, and 31% found themselves leaving their offices to complete their tasks. What’s more, employees find themselves losing as much as 86 work minutes each day due to distractions in open-space offices, the result of constant and, at times, irrelevant co-worker chatter, activity, and pranks.
Adopting best practices that take into account post-coronavirus protocols for social distancing and hygiene, and integrate employees’ declared needs for privacy in order to enable productivity, is every innovative business’ best bet.

Revisiting the cubicle?

The office space is going to change – but how? One would have thought that enabling employees to continue to work remotely would be the safest bet for the short (and maybe even long) term. But, as many a post on career-oriented Facebook groups have already evidenced, this doesn’t seem to be a path adopted by most organizations, as employees find themselves faced with back-in-the-office start dates, even before their children are back in school. Instead, companies are likely to adopt a “staggered approach” to returning to the workplace, with respect to both the number of employees working out of the office at a given time, and the layout of the workspaces themselves. 

For some, this may mean re-instituting the age-old cubicle, providing physical barriers against the spreading of germs and the privacy workers need to perform. For others, such as architectural software company Autodesk, a hybrid approach that physically separates workers sitting in an ostensibly “open-concept office” with transparent shields could help uphold social distancing and germ dissemination, but it likely will not help employees focus better on the job. What’s more, a transparent separation could provide a false sense of security, and lead employees to forget to keep their distance, avoid touching other peoples’ spaces, and transmit the virus from one person to another.

Regardless of companies’ decisions to revisit the cubicle, two things are certain:

    1. Proper hygiene protocols must be set and followed – Employees must wear masks in public areas, wash their hands well and often, and keep a minimum of two meters from one another, at all times. And, it goes without saying, no employee should come to the office if they are feeling unwell.
    2. Digital communication should be promoted – Daily group meetings and brainstorming sessions can be held from the comfort of each worker’s cubicle or work station while leveraging the latest collaboration tools, such as Zoom, Slack, or Monday.com, which we think is truly by far the best working tool ever! (regardless of viruses and pandemics) Other collaboration tools, like Box can be used to manage content and products, without employees making trips to visit coworkers down the hall. And, innovative start-ups can take advantage of these trying times to develop and launch revolutionary communication tools, to take today’s businesses into a more efficient and productive digital future.
  • Offices will need to be smarter and more aware of what’s going on – This may sound futuristic, or even far-fetched, but if the office itself is aware of what is going on in it – the day-to-day and even wellness of the employees and tenants should be improved significantly.

Smart office – the right path

Imagine an office that enables you to automate any type of scenario you wish, kind of IFTTT for the real-life, where the office itself reacts to any event or situation that happens and requires action – turning off the lights, locking and unlocking doors, detecting safety issues and alerting the facility manager and people nearby, notifying the cleaning team of actions needed to be taken, and a whole lot more.
This approach is much more than a solution to this “new normal”, it’s an oh-so-needed evolution of the old and mundane offices nowadays. This is an area the Artishok, one of our portoflio companies, aims at solving. More about this issue and Artishok’s solution – in a dedicated article.

Bottom line

The post-pandemic world is expected to be a stark change from the world we grew to know and love.
But rather than mourn the loss of the open-space office, post-meeting handshakes and watercooler banter, at Highroad, we choose to celebrate the dawn of a new era, in which we look out for the safety, wellbeing and success of one another, and continue to develop innovative solutions for whatever circumstances come our way. 

To learn more about Highroad’s innovative activities, click here.

 

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ArtishokCOVID-19Future of WorkInnovationSmart OfficeSmart Spaces