COVID-19 Will Remake How We Work and Live

The current pandemic will present a “new normal” that may include a continuation of allowing employees to work from home and the creation of new behaviors for those that come into the office. esrp’s Susan Arledge, SIOR shares here insight with Area Development.

Area Development (Q2 2020) – Generally speaking, everyone resists change. Especially sudden change. But Covid-19 changed all that. Friday rolled around and we were told to grab-your-stuff and go home and no one knew when we would be back.

You hear people say, “When things go back to normal…” Well, will things really go back to normal? We’ve learned new techniques, new ways to do things differently when working together digitally. Perhaps we will not return to the old ways.

Post 9/11, the environment around airports forever changed. One shoe bomber forever changed the way we get through airport security. And we adapted.

Most employees will likely choose to return to their workplaces, as the need for personal contact has not gone away. There was so much isolation that many employees will have a new appreciation for office environments.

Challenges to Working Remotely
A survey by getAbstract identified that isolation and the loss of daily face-to-face time is a real challenge for companies and workers alike. We’re social creatures by nature. Collaboration is hard to pick up virtually because it’s difficult to build trust virtually.

The survey revealed statistics that could have an impact on how much office space employers will need to lease and how that space is used in the future.

  • When asked to list their biggest challenges to working remotely amid the outbreak, 28 percent cited general anxiety and 20 percent cited social isolation.
  • 45 percent also said their employers are actively considering — or are open to — having employees work from home.

Safer Workplace Practices
As companies begin to phase in re-entry, OSHA has issues guidelines for how businesses could create new behaviors, safe work practices, and utilize personal protective equipment. They could:

  • Place dispensers of alcohol-based (60 percent minimum) hand sanitizer prominently throughout the space.
  • Discourage employees from using other employee’s phones, desks, offices, or other work tools and equipment.
  • Provide disposable towels/wipes for employees to clean their work surfaces, task lighting, chair backs, and other touchable surfaces in their work area.
  • Throughout the day, clean door pulls/handles, handrails, elevator buttons, badge readers, appliance handles, light switches, shared common areas, counter tops, snack-dispenser controls, sinks and faucets, copiers/fax machines, and touchable pads in conference rooms.
  • Make cleaning visible throughout the day to help reduce employees’ stress levels and build trust.
  • Clean all touchable surfaces each night, including desktops, task lighting, light switches, chair backs and arms, drawer handles, and desk height control.

And the most critical issue will be what to do with some of the most prized commercial real estate, as many millions of square feet of retail space may not be coming back after COVID-19. Our real estate community will need to quickly determine ways to re-purpose top retail sites due to advantages like cost, open architecture, parking, visibility, and highway access.

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