An office designer explains how workplaces will change after the coronavirus – and, yes, hot desking is dead

Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

  • Offices are set to change for good as companies are forced to adapt in the face of the new normal COVID-19.
  • Hot desks are out, while tracing apps, thermal scanners, and elbow handles are in, according to Unispace global design director Simon Poole.
  • However, Poole also believes the function of workplaces almost must change as unprecedented flexibility sweeps corporate Australia.

When it’s all said and done, hot desking will be the least-mourned casualty of the coronavirus.

A cost-saving measure dressed up as an innovative buzzword, the trend is finished according to office designer Unispace.

“The concept of jumping from desk to desk-based on ‘dropping in’ is dead for now,” global design director Simon Pole told Business Insider Australia.

“We will also see the impact on collaboration areas – originally designed to bring people together – also obsolete for the time being, which brings into question: what is the office for, and what value does it add if we can all work from home?”

It’s a question companies around the world are pondering right now, with billions of dollars worth of prized real estate having sat largely empty for weeks with business carrying on regardless. It’s a reality which has divided workers into two very different groups, according to Poole.

“Our clients have told us that their workforce is split into the haves and have-nots. Those who have a good ergonomic setup, good wifi with privacy and no small children and are enjoying the work-life balance, and those who live in one-bedroom apartments or houses with multiple working parents and cant wait to get back to the sanctity of the office,” he said.

With Poole adamant we’re not all going to walk together hand and hand into a remote working utopia, those same businesses are going to have to figure out how to rejig the office for the post-pandemic age.

But what will that look like?

Tracing apps may become the new normal for some

Again, there are two groups Poole sees emerging. If your office never jumped on the freewheeling collaboration train, he expects it’ll be business as usual for cubicle dwellers, with only meeting rooms and common areas due for an overhaul.

If your office skimped on desks, however, then there are some big logistical challenges involved with implementing social distancing policy.

To embrace it, Poole expects these offices may need new apps to book desks, track down colleagues and trace any office infections.

“These organisations will need to review their desk sharing ratios and collect data on what percentage of their workforce will spend time working from home. This will allow the organisation to structure their workforce and allocate bookable desks or owned desks which can be allocated based on need,” Poole said.

Offices will go hands-free, germaphobic – and even thermally scanned

This health and safety aspect will be given more than lip-service as our hands are put on a pedestal. Poole predicts we’ll increasingly go contactless, be it our doors and our bathrooms, and yes, he even sees the elbow handle becoming a staple of office life.

Equally, hygiene stations will become commonplace around entrances, staircases and the office kettle as office managers declare a war on germs.

That’s if they ever make it in. Just as ANZ Bank plans to introduce, more Australian companies will turn to temperature testing in lobbies to prevent staff and clients from bringing infections inside.

But ultimately there are some things for which working from home cannot substitute

Despite this brave new world we’re headed for, Pool thinks it is telling that around one in five workers – predominately management and operations teams – haven’t been able to stay away from the workplace. While the other 80% have managed and some have thrived, the office will likely retain a certain draw.

“Many clients have reported that the social isolation is having its toll on their teams. Having Friday drinks on a chat is not the same, the office banter has stopped, the cultural reinforcement is left to fortnightly emails from the CEO, and the ad hoc knowledge sharing and problem-solving is not happening,” he said.

Instead, he sees the rise of flexible work helping offices change, with employees coming in to satisfy their own social needs rather than those of punctilious managers.

Between that and hot desking’s demise, a new golden age looks to be emerging for the Australian nine-to-five.

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