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Welcome to the Office of the Future

The Jetsons were an animated television family in the early 1960s. Their space-age home was cleaned by Rosie the robot. They talked to each other via video and smartwatches and read the news on flat-screen televisions. Drone-like flying pods delivered their children to school. Voice-activated devices talked to them.

That was then, this is now. 

As a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, interior designers are busy planning the office of the future. Here’s a vision of what office workers may come back to (whenever that is). 

The doors into our office building will open automatically so we don’t have to touch them. We will tell the elevator our floor so we don’t have to touch its buttons. Elevator occupancy will be regulated to enable social distancing. 

Our office will have dividers separating workspaces that are spaced further apart. Break rooms and kitchens will have fewer chairs and signs documenting the last time they were cleaned. 

All of this reverses the trend following the last recession in which companies were trying to do more with less space. Many packed their employees into open office spaces, a practice known as “densification.” This will likely be reversed now with more private spaces or personal offices for employees. Sensors will detect and warn of overcrowding; employees will take turns using private offices and will work from home otherwise.

One company is developing a concept called “Six Feet Office” with visually displayed foot traffic routing to keep employees six feet apart. Higher quality air filtration systems, UV lighting to sanitize surfaces, and more ubiquitous hand-sanitizing stations are predicted. So are infrared body temperature scanners and virus and antibody testing kits for employees. 

We will need more space for fewer employees

All of this, of course, assumes we will return to our offices. 

According to a new MIT report, 34 percent of Americans who previously commuted to work were working from home by the first week of April due to Coronavirus. Prior to the pandemic, only 4 percent of the American workforce worked from home at least half the time. 

Home offices are becoming more ubiquitous as a result. People are looking for ways to convert a closet or add a room to create more functional work-from-home space. They are buying desks, office supplies, and computer technology more frequently than before. 

Does this trend mean that companies will lease less space? One way companies can lessen the financial impact of the pandemic is to reduce their rent obligations. However, while they may have fewer in-office employees, their social-distancing space may need to be larger, so that the two trends cancel each other out. 

For more from the Denison Forum, please visit www.denisonforum.org.

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