At PT we’re thinking about how the world is being reshaped by the impact of Covid19. While there may never be a post-pandemic-free world (there never really was; we just didn’t want to think about it), we are going to adapt. But how and to what?
Already the ideas are flowing – an example from the New York Times on the office:
- There may be limits on the number of people allowed in an elevator.
- New technology could provide access to rooms and elevators without employees having to touch a handle or press a button. Sensor-activated controls may also increase, reducing the number of surfaces that need to be touched in an office and allowing workers to use elevators and open doors with the wave of a hand.
- Chairs on casters will permit people to roll seats a safe distance from colleagues.
- 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.
- The ability to work from home at least a few days a week — long sought by many American workers — may be here to stay. “A big light bulb went off during this pandemic,” said Anita Kamouri, vice president at Iometrics, a workplace services firm. Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics, expects more than 25 percent of employees to continue working from home multiple days a week, up from fewer than 4 percent who did so before the pandemic. “I don’t think that genie is going back into the bottle,” she said.
- If companies do allow more of their employees to log in from home, some may consider reducing their office footprint, which could have significant ramifications for commercial real estate. But if the amount of space devoted to employee workstations and other functions increases, demand for space could balance out. There will be a higher value around spaces where we come together.
- Lounges, cafes and other gathering spaces that sprang up to make collaborative work easier may become even more important if employees do more work from home and commute in for meetings.
Most office elevators use RFID cards which are also used to access office space from the common elevator lobbies, but you might still need to push the elevator button (some buildings, like Royal Tower, have a touchscreen system in the lobby that assigns you to an elevator going to your floor). It would probably be too difficult to install automatic (ie handicapped) door openers at common area access points, but at least going one direction, you can flash and push/kick the door open.
Washroom vestibules have had small garbage cans for years for those using paper towels to open door handles (before, there would be piles of them on the floor between the doors).
I could see COVID-19 being the latest factor causing the return to private offices/dedicated workspaces at firms that have moved to open concept shared workspaces (confidentiality of materials and conversations being foremost).