Post-pandemic workplace: shaping up for the new normal

What might happen when the lockdown is lifted? Is cellular office space set for a comeback? Can we put a six-feet cordon around every employee? All this and more in our latest update during the pandemic

With WORKTECH’s professional live conference series is now paused due to the coronavirus pandemic, we continue to reach out to our 10,000-plus Academy members, WORKTECH attendees, speakers, partners and sponsors through our weekly WORKTECH Wednesday Briefing, which shares new ideas and perspectives with our global network.

The 6 Feet Office

Now that the first shocks of the crisis have been absorbed, the workplace industry is fast turning its attention to what happens next – when the lockdown lifts and we begin to head back to our places of work. Much commentary is centred around redesigning offices to observe new protocols around social distancing and hygiene. Cushman & Wakefield has been fast out of the traps with a post-Covid-19 workplace concept for its own Amsterdam space, dubbed the 6 Feet Office. The company has already helped nearly one million people in China return to work and appears determined not to let a good crisis go to waste. There’s a critical analysis of Cushman & Wakefield’s approach in Fast Company magazine, which you can access here.

Social interaction threatened

While creating a six-feet-buffer around individual workers in the office might be one solution for a safe work environment, it is clear the idea of social distancing at work will have wider knock-on effects. According to Oliver Wainwright, architecture critic for The Guardian newspaper, the post-pandemic workplace might not only feature bigger desks (reversing trends of recent years) but also smaller office towers, on the grounds that low-density high-rise buildings  become uneconomic. Buzzy coworking venues based on the idea of social community could also be under threat, as Wainwright explains: ‘The coworking dream was sold on the very basis of social interaction, the promise that you might rub up against freelance creative types while you’re waiting for your artisanal coffee. But proximity may no longer seem so tempting.’ You can read Oliver Wainwright’s commentary here.

Kinks in the system

Another target for post-virus change is high-density open plan office space, which was already unpopular with many employees on account of noise and distractions. Leeson Medhurst, director of workplace at Workplace Futures Group, believes that fallout from the virus will give people an excuse to simply say no to open plan. He is currently running a weekly webinar series to tease out the implications of the lockdown – on Friday 17 April, his guest was WORKTECH Academy director Jeremy Myerson. Together they discussed the essential characteristics of the post-pandemic workplace and whether two-person cellular offices might return. As Medhurst explained: ‘Once a system is bent right out of shape, it rarely snaps back into exactly the same position. We need to know what the kinks will be’. You can view a video recording of the webinar here.

Creativity clusters

A big question looming behind the post-pandemic workplace is whether people will simply revert to normal once the lockdown is lifted. Dr Jeff DeGraff of the University of Michigan, who works closely with global furniture company Haworth, doesn’t believe this will be the case. He predicts a reluctance to return to busy offices combined with a burning desire to escape the home. The result: a more fluid workforce seeking out ‘creativity clusters’. Read DeGraff’s blog here.

Workplace experience apps

Finally, Spica Technologies has teamed up with WORKTECH Academy to conduct research into the use and relevance of workplace experience apps, which will have a growing role in the post-pandemic world. Spica believes that enforced remote working has brought the whole topic of workplace experience to the fore, placing new emphasis on healthy and not just smart buildings. We will publish the results of this survey in the upcoming WORKTECH Guide to Workplace App Technology, as well as hosting a webinar to talk through the findings, with a Q&A feedback session available for all participants.

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