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Q+A: Will COVID-19 Change the Way We Work Forever?

In a Q&A with REJournals, HOK’s Adam Stoltz, firm-wide director of consulting, discusses the long-term impact COVID-19 could have on the workplace.

Excerpted from REJournals:

What do you hope companies are learning about remote working during this time?

I hope that what we take away from this is two-fold: That we can do a much better job giving people support with greater choices, flexibility and control over some of the decisions they make about how they do their best work. If an employee works better when he or she works part of the time remotely, we must recognize that, even if that hasn’t always been company policy.

The second thing is, when we decide to ask people to come back into the office, I hope we recognize that there are likely several things we have to do to make them feel comfortable. The idea of tuning off a switch that has been turned on and now we are just turning it off? I just don’t think it can work that way.

What will be some of the challenges that workers might face when they are asked to return to the office?

Companies might think about giving people the choice of picking the setting or environment that fits best with the work they are doing that day. For some people that could mean that tomorrow they are going to work from home because they are spending most of the day in a video conference with people across the globe. Why do they need to go into the office if they are going to be in a videoconference call by themselves?

What can companies do to promote well-being when employees return?

Companies should think about providing more opportunities for unassigned space. This doesn’t mean that no one gets an assigned desk. It’s about giving people the freedom to move about the office to find the spaces that are most comfortable for them. Maybe an employee has a co-worker who has a sniffle or a cough. It can be truly benign. But if it makes that first employee more comfortable to get up from his or her desk and go to another part of the office to work, I hope employees have the opportunity to do that. I think giving employees more freedom of movement and more choice is important.

We also need to see the development of tools and technology that allow people to gain more information about how the work settings available to them were last used and when they were last cleaned and serviced.

Do you think the way offices are laid out will change?

We have been pursing greater density in the workplace for several years now. Companies have wanted less office space per person. I don’t foresee workspaces getting larger, even after this pandemic. But I think companies might start rethinking the spacing they have between workstations and how they arrange these stations to give employees a bit more room between each other.

Related: COVID-19: Design for Change

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