Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Will COVID-19 Change the Way Workplaces Look?

By Maurie Backman – Apr 30, 2020 at 9:18AM

You’re reading a free article with opinions that may differ from The Motley Fool’s Premium Investing Services. Become a Motley Fool member today to get instant access to our top analyst recommendations, in-depth research, investing resources, and more. Learn More

Packing people into tight spaces may not fly once remote workers are ready to return to the office.

As a full-time freelance writer, it's admittedly been a long time since I've worked in an actual office. But the last time I did, I remember sharing an oversized table-turned-desk with five other people, sans walls or barriers. The result? Every time one of my desk-mates took a personal phone call, I was privy to the details of his or her life. Every time a desk-mate brought in an offensive lunch, I was forced to endure the smells. And every time one of my desk-mates came in with a cold, I cursed under my breath most of the day in anticipation of getting sick myself.

Thankfully, I no longer have an office to report to, but a lot of Americans do. Many people who are working from home right now won't be allowed to do so indefinitely. And despite the perks of working remotely, some jobs aren't as conducive to it as others.

Bustling office, with people sitting at computers and others standing over them

IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.

So what will workplaces look like once the COVID-19 crisis winds down? Will the packed spaces many workers are used to continue to fly, or will companies need to invest in actual breathing room for the people on their payroll?

What will office looks like after COVID-19?

Though many companies have shunned the classic cubicle setup in favor of more open layouts, "open" does not necessarily imply "room to spread out." In fact, it's easy to argue that cubicles, though less conducive to collaboration and conversation, provide more protection from germs in offices where desks are pushed up against each other for space-conservation purposes.

So will COVID-19 spark a cubicle revival? Maybe. But also, that may not be good enough.

What about meeting rooms? At my old company, we'd pack a few dozen people into a tiny, sweaty space on the regular. In today's health-conscious environment, it's hard to imagine that will continue to fly. And what about other shared spaces like break rooms, lunch areas, and even restrooms? What steps will companies take to help their employees spread out and stay safe?

Right now, employers have a challenge on their hands, and the solution may boil down to securing larger offices. But that's a costly ask, and with stay-at-home orders still in full effect, scoping out rentals is off the table.

What companies can do, for starters, is be more mindful of the ways they can encourage employee distancing as they slowly but surely move their workforce back to the office. For one thing, they can stagger schedules so that fewer employees are in the office at once. They can also see about shifting some employees into full-time remote arrangements.

Another important move employers need to make is being both generous and understanding with sick time. By allowing workers to take time off when they're under the weather without facing backlash or hits to their paychecks, companies can foster a healthier environment for the people who show up to work.

And then, of course, there are those common sense measures that many companies already employ -- think installing sanitizer dispensers throughout the office and cleaning shared spaces regularly. Equipping each individual desk with a canister of disinfecting wipes wouldn't hurt, either. Nor would providing employees with face masks, at least initially.

It's too soon to tell when remote work mandates will come to an end, and much will depend on locale. Some cities may see their office complex parking lots start to fill up sooner, while areas with high levels of COVID-19 activity will likely take a lot longer to reopen. But one thing's for sure: Workplaces may look a lot different once we're ready to return to them.

The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Invest Smarter with The Motley Fool

Join Over 1 Million Premium Members Receiving…

  • New Stock Picks Each Month
  • Detailed Analysis of Companies
  • Model Portfolios
  • Live Streaming During Market Hours
  • And Much More
Get Started Now

Related Articles

Motley Fool Returns

Motley Fool Stock Advisor

Market-beating stocks from our award-winning analyst team.

Stock Advisor Returns
332%
 
S&P 500 Returns
104%

Calculated by average return of all stock recommendations since inception of the Stock Advisor service in February of 2002. Returns as of 10/01/2022.

Discounted offers are only available to new members. Stock Advisor list price is $199 per year.

Premium Investing Services

Invest better with The Motley Fool. Get stock recommendations, portfolio guidance, and more from The Motley Fool's premium services.