Your 9 to 5 will soon be measured in feet.
The coronavirus will radically change the way people work in offices — with new rules keeping colleagues as far apart as possible.
As states around the US begin re-opening, experts are considering radical new ways to keep office workers safe, most centered on enforcing isolation — even if it leaves them stressed and unmotivated.
“We’ve found that the more isolation that employees experience or perceive, that has a negative impact on a number of important outcomes,” said organizational psychologist Brad Bell said, including “satisfaction with work.”
“I think it can certainly lead to stress. It can undermine well-being,” he warned.
The changes are likely to start as soon workers arrive at their buildings, with temperature checks and mandatory hand sanitizers waiting before anyone is even allowed in.
In elevators, markers will ensure people stay a safe distance apart — with potentially blunt worded signs reminded people to stay away throughout the work day.
Many offices are expected to have one-way corridors, exclusion zones around desks and transparent plastic screens to protect workers from their colleagues’ coughs and sneezes.
Rather than gathering around the water cooler, staff are also likely to fear getting too close to others — with models of future offices showing them skirting past desks as far away as possible.
Some working-from-home practices — such as video meetings — could remain to keep people from crowding into conference rooms or having to travel to other offices.
In Australia, chief medical officer Brendan Murphy said he wants “staggered start times and finish times” to stop “everybody crowding on public transport at the same time.”
“Hand sanitizer everywhere. People not shaking their hands. People not crowding into a small room for a meeting,” he said.
Some larger companies even have special coronavirus task forces to help come up with safety measures — as well as preparing employees for the less-friendly new work environment.
They include international real estate company Cushman and Wakefield, whose task force oversaw the return of almost a million people to offices in China with new design concepts.
“It comes down to some basic concepts, things like colored carpet or, in a less sophisticated or expensive application, taping off what six feet workstations look like, the firm’s task force member Bill Knightly said.
“In some cases, installing Plexiglas or some other form of sneeze or cough guards to give folks additional insurance.”
For many companies, maintaining social distancing could come at a cost, and not just from updating office space.
“There is a scenario where you may need more space,” Knightly warned.