Back to Work: How Offices Could Change After the Pandemic

The United States and other nations around the world are approaching the tail-end of the pandemic. The vaccination of citizens has been quick and, by fall, these places are expecting life to go back to normal.

For many adults, that means trading their sweatpants for slacks and their sofas for desks.

Offices are bound to reopen as the public health situation starts to ease. In the United Kingdom, workers may return to the office as early as summer. Some American companies, including Google, are already reopening their offices in a limited capacity.

While everyone wants life to go back to how it was like pre-pandemic, it should not. There are aspects of society that enabled COVID-19 which, although highly contagious can be contained as New Zealand and Vietnam have proven, to wildly spread to the population.

And, the office is one that needs a major overhaul.

Your place of work should not be a site that enables disease outbreaks. It should be a safe space for employees, not a threat to their health.

In the post-pandemic world, what should offices look like?

No Touch Surfaces

It turned out that COVID-19 most is transmitted through droplets and aerosols ejected when a sick person coughs, sneezes, speaks, or breathes. However, it still is common practice to avoid high-traffic surfaces such as doorknobs and elevator buttons at all costs. These areas are breeding grounds for germs, many of which cause illnesses.

During the pandemic, many alternatives have come out. Businesses installed touchless switches which open the door automatically as soon as it senses that a person is waving at its sensor. This, alone, can prevent disease transmission within the office.

Other measures should be implemented in the office. The bathrooms, for example, should have faucets that can be activated with sensors or use fixtures made of copper, an element known to kill germs.

The high-traffic areas that cannot be eliminated completely should be sanitized frequently. Perhaps, choosing an office desk made of stainless steel instead of wood can make wiping down surfaces to remove viruses and bacteria easier.

A Flexible Offer

It has been over a year since a pandemic was announced by the World Health Organization. In that time, people have developed new habits and routines that are entered at home. Most of them have also been used to working from home.

As a result, many workers do not want to return to the office. Even if they have received their vaccines and it is safer once again to go out, they would rather continue the current remote setup.

Employers have every incentive to offer a flexible working arrangement to their employees. It would save them overhead costs of maintaining a commercial space. It might even eliminate the need to maintain an office if you decide to fully transition your operations online.

Companies that will allow flexibility can move to a smaller space, which will cost less in rent and upkeep, or create an additional stream of revenue to recover lost money during the pandemic. Some are opening up to freelancers and startups that need the temporary desk. Co-working before the pandemic was on the rise and after the pandemic will likely continue to be in demand.

Moreover, flexibility allows space. It was clear early on that proximity is an important factor in disease transmission. Experts in public health were quick to recommend social distancing, a practice in which a person stays away from others as much as possible. This, together with wearing a mask and proper handwashing, are the primary defense against COVID-19.

To prevent outbreaks in the future, there needs to be adequate space to allow distancing. Even if another pandemic does not happen until 20 or 50 years from now, the U.S. sees thousands of people getting sick because of the flu every single year. The distancing will also help prevent your employees from getting sick.

A Breath of Fresh Air Indoors

The main challenge facing offices now is the role that airflow plays in the spread of illnesses. Rather than placing employees back inside cubicles, employers and office designers should figure out how to reduce the amount of exhaled air that is flowing within the office.

Opening the window will dilute the air indoors and, therefore, prevent transmission. However, it is not energy-efficient and, in most cities, it will only allow polluted air to come into the building.

The solution suggested by an expert to NPR is an intelligent system that places vents on the ceiling and floor. The one in the ceiling will suck the exhaled air out of the room while the one on the floor will push filtered air out.

Installing a living wall inside the office is another solution put forward. The addition of plants in a room will clean the air of harmful elements and trade fresh, clean, healthy oxygen.

When workers start to leave their respective homes and go back to the office, their health and safety should be prioritized. Before they start reporting to the office again, employers and business owners should make changes to prevent illnesses in the workplace.


Sudarsan Chakraborty is a professional writer. He contributes to many high-quality blogs. He loves to write on various topics.