What will the workplace look like post-COVID-19?

Companies must determine how office spaces can adhere to the new normal of personal hygiene and physical distancing

What will the workplace look like post-COVID-19?

Post-COVID-19, organisation will find themselves having to adapt to ensure they are productive, collaborative and, in the event of future outbreaks, virus-free.

The merits of open-plan offices have long been debated, however little consideration has been given to their potential role in spreading dangerous, highly contagious viruses.

As lockdowns are relaxed around the world and people return to their workplaces, companies must determine how office spaces can adhere to the new normal of personal hygiene and physical distancing, according to The Auckland University of Technology’s (AUT) Associate Professor Rachel Morrison (School of Business and Economics).

In particular, this is challenging for organisations with co-working spaces, where shared surfaces and amenities require constant cleaning to minimise the spread of illness.

In countries such as Australia and New Zealand, where efforts to “flatten the curve” have so far been successful and which have relatively easily controlled borders, communal workspaces may be relegated to the pre-pandemic past.

Associate Professor Morrison added that, in addition to physical modifications, the pandemic has significantly impacted both the approaches to, and ease of, interpersonal communication at work. The opportunities afforded by virtual meetings are coupled with the challenges of remote communication.

For example, we are more persuasive in person, particularly if we know the person.

Moreover, being on a video call is more draining than a face-to-face chat because workers must concentrate harder to process non-verbal cues such as tone of voice and body language. Anxiety about technology is another barrier.

As new norms of hand washing, cleaning equipment, and wearing masks emerge, gestures such as handshaking or friendly pecks on the cheek may soon be things of the past, as will family photos and mementos on desks, if they prove too difficult to sanitise.

“As NZ emerges from lock-down, changes to how and where we work are inevitable. Whether we continue to work remotely, or resume working with others, the impact of COVID-19 will be felt well into the future.”

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