What will your workplace look like when we return to work?

The COVID-19 Pandemic will dramatically impact the corporate workplace. Recently the NY Times published an article by Jane Margolies that we thought covered many of the challenges and solutions for re-opening the workplace moving forward.

We have edited the parts of the article that focused on possible changes to your existing work space. You can read the entire article here.

Returning workers can expect stepped-up cleaning and a reinforcement of social distancing. Hand sanitizer stands will probably be positioned in lobbies. Maintenance staff will swab door handles. There may be limits on the number of people allowed in an elevator.

Workplaces may have significant changes in the long run, including new seating arrangements and the addition of building materials that discourage the spread of germs. New technology could provide access to rooms and elevators without employees having to touch a handle or press a button.

Some companies are considering phasing in employees to limit the number of people on the premises and ease them back to office life after a prolonged period of sequestering at home.

Alternating groups of employees at the office is also under discussion. “There could be A teams and B teams working different days.”

Moving desks farther apart could also give workers more elbow room.

Over the past decade, many companies eliminated private offices in favor of open plans, but the amount of space per office worker declined 25 percent, said Janet Pogue McLaurin, an architect and principal at the design firm Gensler, which has been tracking changes in the workplace in annual surveys since 2008.

The typical workstation of a decade ago — the cubicle — was 8 by 8 feet. By 2015, the workstation was down to 6 by 8 feet, and in recent years, the contraction has continued.

Benching — desks lined up side by side — has been another way workers have been squeezed.

Benching — desks lined up side by side — has been another way workers have been squeezed.

A benching desk with a width of six feet would be consistent with current social distancing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But many desks are not that wide. And often one row of desks faces another row, so that employees are directly opposite their peers.

To create a six-foot radius around each employee, companies may have to pull desks apart or stagger employees so they are not facing one another, experts say.

Certain materials may come to the fore. Smooth surfaces that are easy to wipe will be preferable to textured or porous ones that could harbor germs. And antimicrobial materials used in hospitals and laboratories may migrate to offices. Interest has surged in new materials such as those that mimic sharkskin, to which microscopic organisms have difficulty adhering.

Some old metals may experience a revival. Copper and its alloys — including brass and bronze — have been shown to be essentially self-sanitizing, able to kill bacteria and, early studies suggest, perhaps even the coronavirus plaguing the planet.

Workstations can provide safe separation.