Here’s how office life, for now, has changed

People are adapting to both temporary and permanent changes at work due to COVID-19

June 25, 2020

The workplaces where millions of people are now returning to have changed, with new safety-minded regulations and policies firmly in place.

Some of the changes might be temporary, others more permanent.

China’s new rules around health and hygiene mean temperature checks three times a day, mandatory face masks, and abundantly-available hand sanitisers scattered around common areas.

In Hong Kong, employees at Citibank are greeted by the sight of plastic dividers between seats and robots tasked with disinfecting surfaces, while at the city’s ICC Building, lifts were reprogrammed to limit the number of users and reduce the frequency of stops.

Office landlords in Sydney are rethinking common facilities, such as end-of-trip bathrooms, to ensure safe distancing.

Which of these will be more temporary? It’ll likely be additions like signs and social distancing markers, the plexiglass shields as dividers, and body thermal scanners in lobbies.

“The employee experience in the office has undoubtedly changed,” says Gonzalo Portellano, Head of Portfolio Design, JLL Asia Pacific. “The immediate top priority for organizations is ensuring the health and well-being of their staff.”

In an effort to keep people comfortable with the new surroundings, companies are aiming for designs that won’t make these changes unpleasant or cumbersome.

“In the longer term, some of these features will be abandoned, but others will remain,” he says. “They will seamlessly be adopted with an integrative design approach, where safety, employee wellbeing and productivity can be addressed with equal importance.”

These long-term changes include using QR codes on mobile phones to activate the turnstiles, meeting rooms designed to for fewer people, and having more segregated individual work spaces, according to the Re-Entry: A Guide for Workplace Design Considerations report from JLL.

It notes that technology is set play a bigger role post-Covid, even when safe distancing measures are relaxed.

“Employees will experience an increasingly contactless work environment with their own devices being an inseparable tool to interact with their environment,” says Portellano. “Firms will need to be able to integrate all these features with robust platforms that support employees in their office journey – be it in the early morning when they make the first choice of working from home, using voice automated technology to open doors in the office to booking their desk or ordering a coffee through an app.”

New normal way of life

For some employees, adapting to a new corporate order could prove disorienting. According to a survey in human resource magazine HRM, 6 in 10 employees in Singapore feel “uncomfortable” going back to the office.

Others have cited that they now enjoy more flexible working hours going into the office in order to keep to social distancing norms on public transport and prevent peak hour crowding in office buildings.

Office workers in the region are mostly accepting of the change.

“We just have to observe new rules and behaviours,” says senior content manager Vianne Fung, who works in JLL Hong Kong. “We get our temperatures checked and fill in a health declaration every morning. Masks have become an everyday staple and even an accessory. And we are well-aware to keep a desk’s distance of 1.5 metre apart from our co-workers.”

She doesn’t think collaboration and productivity have been affected by these changes, although some aspects of socialising are. “At our most recent internal happy hour, we couldn’t sit in more than groups of eight in adherence to Hong Kong’s safe distancing rule. And we were reminded constantly not to crowd at the beer tap,” she says.

It appears that it will be some time before life fully goes back to the way it was, if ever.

“The immediate return to the office will require new but simple habits, and it will take a relatively short time to adopt them,” says Portellano. “It is essential that everyone embraces the collective benefits of the changes and catches up quickly and effectively.”

Looking ahead, he foresees that organizations will soon be ready to take stock of these lessons and shape their offices to be prepared to the new habits and demands of a world post-pandemic.

“Organizations will be adopting more decidedly alternative ways of working, other than the office or working from home, such as Work from Anywhere, in decentralised, smaller, and more convenient hubs, or repurposing the existing workplaces to true activity-based spaces,” he says. “This will truly allow people to choose how and from where they will work at any time.”