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The Opportunities—and Challenges—of A Post-Pandemic Office
Covid-19 has forever changed the state of work. Perhaps the most profound change relates to office layouts. There’s no denying that the workplace will look different after the pandemic than it did before. And there’s been a lot of speculation about what the physical office will look like in a post-pandemic world. In the past few weeks, we’ve gained a little more clarity on what to expect. Here’s a look at what we can anticipate in the months and years to come.
1. Air filtration
A recent report by CB Insights highlighted how office air filtration will change in a post-pandemic office. A staggering 75% of the air in an office is recirculated and filtered indoor air. Recognizing that air filtration is top-of-mind for businesses and building managers, UV Angel—a Michigan-based startup—recently announced two new products that neutralize pathogens on surfaces and in the air. The products rely on UV-C light treatment technology to neutralize viruses, including coronaviruses, as several harmful pathogens are sensitive to ultraviolet light. Essentially, they are light purification systems.
Another startup tackling air filtration by harnessing UV light treatment is Healthe. While experts have long realized that UV light is a potent disinfectant, UV light-products have not typically been safe for human exposure. Healthe’s products use a specific UV wave that kills viruses yet cannot penetrate human skin or eyes, which means it is not harmful. As Fred Maxik, Founder and Chief Scientific Officer of Healthe, has explained, “It represents a new light that we can live with, not one we need to run from.”
Heathe recently launched its Cleanse Portal, which is a free-standing walk-through sanitizer that looks similar to a metal detector. Rather than detecting metal objects thought, the Portal inactivates bacteria and viruses on clothing, objects, and skin.
The CB Insights report also emphasized how elevators, which are coronavirus hotspots, will change in a post-pandemic office. There are several potential options. In Thailand, for example, foot-operated elevators have emerged, enabling people to avoid contact with elevator buttons.
Companies are also investigating gesture tracking elevator solutions. San Francisco-based Ultaleap, for example, has developed products that use ultrasound technology and infrared light to track hand movements. Stockholm-based Neonode is also focused on building post-pandemic elevator solutions. It has already installed its touch sensor modules, which rely on holographic technology, in thousands of elevators in China.
Aside from the cost, there’s little controversy with technologies such as air filtration and elevators. But some other technologies that have been proposed for the post-pandemic office are more controversial and have sparked privacy concerns.
3. Temperature monitoring
Companies have proposed different measures for monitoring employees’ health and temperature. Most of these measures are non-invasive and involve employees self-reporting their health status. Yet some measures are much more invasive.
Albert De Plazaola, global strategy director at design firm Unispace, has described some of these more invasive measures. He’s explained that some companies are considering “aggressively monitoring for sick employees” by “embedding sensors underneath desks to monitor body temperatures, with a facilities manager alerted when someone has a fever.
De Plazaola has also commented on the challenging tradeoff between implementation ease and privacy concerns: “This kind of technology already exists and wouldn’t be tough to integrate...But it raises huge privacy issues. HR and legal departments would need to weigh in on whether this is the right course to pursue.”
4. Physical distancing
Companies are also contemplating how to monitor employees’ physical distance compliance in the office. Commercial real estate company Cushman & Wakefield has transformed its Amsterdam headquarters to illustrate what the post-coronavirus pandemic office might look like. One change involves plastering large circles on the office carpet as a guide for people to stay six feet away from each other. The proposed office also includes arrows on the perimeter of rooms to encourage people to walk counter-clockwise to prevent close contact.
Without compliance, signs and other guides aren’t going to meaningfully minimize coronavirus exposure. That’s why some companies are taking more drastic measures. According to Fast Company, Cushman & Wakefield has also installed transmitters to track employee movement via cell phones to ensure employees remain six feet apart, and potentially alert employees if they do not comply with physical distance mandates.
Now is the time to think outside the box in terms of what a post-pandemic office might look like. But creativity must be tempered with privacy considerations. It’s going to be a challenging balance between health, implementation, and privacy concerns. To be sure, there will be new companies that emerge that devise new strategies that prioritize health and implementation ease, without sacrificing privacy. These companies will emerge as the leaders of the future workplace.