Recent trends and developments in modern office furniture have seen workplaces move towards open and shared environments that encourage creativity and collaboration. With the challenges presented by COVID-19, office managers and planners must now pull back on that approach, reconfiguring workplaces to keep people safe while also maintaining productivity standards.

It won’t be an easy task. Although we likely aren’t going back to the age of office cubicles, we are no doubt entering a new phase where people will be physically distancing through the use of screens and barriers, and also floor-based directional markers. Measures and protocols that require physical distancing of at least two metres will necessitate a step back from a completely open and interactive workplace.

We’ve already had a look at what a COVID-19 economy will look like, in grocery stores with checkout panels, one-way aisles, and distancing stickers on the floor. As the economy reopens, going back to work will be a different experience from what we have known: face masks, no physical contact, and lots of distancing measures. How long that will be in place is anyone’s guess – at least until a vaccine comes along and maybe then, even longer.

A Vision of a Next Normal Work Environment is Emerging

The ‘next normal’ that is emerging will surely change the workplace in fundamental ways, perhaps even for the better as planners take advantage of design opportunities. Here is a look at what modern office furniture might entail:

  • When workers first return to the office, they are likely to find the space already transformed with initial design retrofits that include separating panels and barriers, desks and chairs moved further apart, and visibly increased cleaning measures.
  • Later, design changes can be incorporated to create a more natural feel and set the stage for a second wave of employees to return to work. Look for design layouts that combine physical distancing measures with collaborative features and workstation elements like screens with creative designs.
  • We can anticipate the arrival of new furniture fabrics that withstand heavy and repeated cleaning.
  • Furniture and office spaces that incorporate video conferencing will become even more standard as travel will be off the table for some time to come.
  • It’s likely inevitable that working from home will be here to stay, even when the crisis lifts, with employees and employers seeing the related benefits. Where feasible and depending on the role, expect the home office experience to become a permanent fixture.

Design of Modern Office Furniture Will Likely Incorporate Risk-Mitigation Features

Even when the next normal begins to feel like the old normal, it’s more than likely that measures put in place because of COVID-19 will remain, and even enhanced, to keep employees safe, mitigate the spread of disease, and protect the business from future similar disruptions. It will become part of a risk-mitigation strategy. Look for:

  • Design ideas that feature division, geometry, and density metrics to maintain distancing measures and protocols to protect employees and achieve productivity goals.
  • Employees given the choice of a dedicated or reservable workstation.
  • Easy access to cleaning supplies.
  • Furniture and surfaces with fabrics that are durable and easy to clean, with anti-microbial and/or protective coatings being introduced.
  • Flexible furniture that’s easy to move and reconfigure will find an increased presence in a post-COVID workplace.

Other office reconfiguring measures include:

  • Adding large-scale collaboration resources to help teams maintain relationships and fuel innovation over distance.
  • Introducing standing meetings so that people can naturally distance themselves and meet without being confined to an enclosed space.
  • Adopting agile practices like daily standing meetings, useful in reducing space requirements and achieving physical distancing requirements.

As we move into the post-COVID-19 age, offices will no longer be designed for permanence, but rather adaptability and fluidity. Solutions will include voice- and gesture-activated commands, and enhanced virtual resources that allow people to connect and interact. The road ahead will be bumpy, but it’s not one you need travel alone. Contact POI today to talk to one of our experts about what modern office furniture you can add to your office.