When workers start returning to their offices, one thing is certain: nothing will be the same. Say good-bye to the shared fridge and snack cabinets and say hello to those walled cubicles and health checks.
While the country, and much of the world is still in the midst of trying to stop the spread of COVID-19 transmission, others are thinking about how to safely return their employees to the office. Some of the larger tech companies, like Twitter, have told employees they can work remotely for as long as they want, others are emphasizing the value of in-person communication and collaboration.
Facebook’s plan to return essential workers to the office this month gives us a peek into what other companies might also be planning. Facebook will be limiting offices to 25% occupancy capping how many employees can gather in a meeting room and replacing the famous cafeteria buffet with simple grab-and-go meals. It will also require temperature checks and employees must wear masks in the office when not social distancing.
In addition to lots of hand sanitizer stations around the workplace, here’s a look at some of the processes and technologies being adopted in offices across the country to help keep workers healthy and productive.
Among the changes you’ll likely see is fewer people commuting to the office at the same time. Expect companies to stagger shifts so employees can avoid traveling during the most crowded times of day. To help minimize the number of employees in the office at any one time, employees might be asked to work alternate days. Teams would be grouped together to allow for small in-person meetings.
Once in the building, there’s a focus on keeping people at a safe distance from each other, thorough and daily cleanings and enabling better air filtration systems. "The amount of people cleaning and sanitizing an office is going to shoot through the roof," predicts Brian Kropp, Gartner's chief of human resources research. He says extra attention will go to places like conference rooms, which will have to be cleaned between uses.
Salesforce and Siemens announced a strategic partnership to develop safe solutions that include a touchless office.
Forget pressing the button for the elevator, employees would instead use their mobile device for building and elevator entry, as well as to reserve a conference room. Employers can leverage that real-time data to manage the number of employees allowed at any given time, as well as for contact tracing in case there is a need.
Dave Hopping, President of Siemens Smart Infrastructure told Cheddar Smart building technology will allow people to work and flow through the building without touching anything.
Employees can expect a bit of a wait to get into the office while they undergo a temperature check and possibly fill out a health questionnaire. Some companies are requesting negative COVID tests before an employee can return to work.
Many companies plan to enact what retailers and doctors’ offices are already doing; taking temperatures to check for fevers. With the help of thermal scanning technologies, this will be simple and quick and those with a fever can be easily identified before they head to the elevator. Kogniz, a thermal security platform, uses AI to track fevers from a distance.
Some companies, like IBM, are considering high tech sensors to remind people to maintain social distancing in the office. Joanna Daly, vice president for corporate health and safety at IBM said in an interview existing industrial sensor technology could easily be adapted to offices, reminding people to stand apart. One possible example: "we'd want our phones to buzz if we got closer than 2 meters while we were having a conversation," she said.
Systems like OnTrack Workplace will help companies with biometric technology employ sensors to encourage social distancing and maintain data like mapping technology that lets managers monitor what areas have been cleaned and how crowded they are.
Those plexiglass barriers you’ve seen in the grocery store? Get ready for them to invade your open floor plan. Designers and architects say cubicles and partitions are making a return to the workplace. Expect to see newly designed spaces, and, where possible, more outdoor space to gather in small groups without a high risk of transmitting the virus.
Innovative design company Gensler says “the new workplace must be worth the commute — a human-centric experience where employees feel safe, healthy, and empowered. It must be a place where design can nudge healthy behaviors and people can feel that their work, and their personal well-being, is valued. Just like well-placed stairwells can encourage people to take the stairs instead of elevators, steps such as removing excess seating, installing sanitizing or hand-washing stations, and placing 6-foot floor markers for social distancing can encourage new behaviors.”
One way to combat the spread of the virus, according to experts, is to clean every surface that gets touched. Expect to see Ultraviolet or UV sanitizing make its way to the office. And for those surfaces that are hard to clean, like door handles and elevator buttons, Holly Samuelson, a Harvard Graduate School of Design professor who specializes in buildings and public health, told Vogue it’s time to re-think those touch spots. “Do you really need to touch a door handle to get in and out of an office bathroom?” HVAC systems will also get an overhaul.