Cubicle comeback? Pandemic will reshape office life for good

Cubicle comeback? Pandemic will reshape office life for good
Representational Photo

Office jobs are never going to be the same.

When workers around the world eventually return to theirdesks, they'll find many changes due to the pandemic. For a start, fewer peoplewill go back to their offices as the coronavirus crisis makes working from homemore accepted, health concerns linger and companies weigh up rent savings andproductivity benefits.

For the rest, changes willbegin with the commute as workers arrive in staggered shifts to avoid rush hourcrowds. Staff might take turns working alternate days in the office to reducecrowding. Floor markings or digital sensors could remind people to stand apartand cubicles might even make a comeback.

"This is going to be a catalyst for things that people weretoo scared to do before," said John Furneaux, CEO of Hive, a New YorkCity-based workplace software startup.

 The pandemic "gives added impetus to allow usand others to make changes to century-old working practices." Hive plans tohelp employees avoid packed rush hour subway commutes by starting at differenthours, said Furneaux, who tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies. In Britain,the government is considering asking employers to do the same.

At bigger companies, senior executives are rethinkingcramming downtown office towers with workers. British bank Barclays is making a"long-term adjustment in how we think about our location strategy," CEO JesStaley said.

 "The notion ofputting 7,000 people in a building may be a thing of the past." That is alreadyhappening in China, where lockdowns started easing in March.         Beijing municipal authorities limitedthe number of people in each office to no more than 50 per cent of usualstaffing levels, required office workers to wear face masks and sit at least 1meter (3.3 feet) apart.

At a minimum, the COVID-19 crisis could be the death knellfor some recent polarizing office trends, such as the shared workspaces used bymany tech startups to create a more casual and creative environment. Cubiclesand partitions are making a return as the virus speeds the move away from openplan office spaces, architects say.

Design firm Bergmeyer is reinstalling dividers on 85 desks at its Boston office that had been removed over the years. That "will return a greater degree of privacy to the individual desks, in addition to the physical barrier which this health crisis now warrants," said Vice President Rachel Zsembery. 

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