The traditional office workstation faded into relative obscurity over the past 15 years or so, thanks in large part to a major cultural shift towards open concept workspaces. No longer were employees forced to trudge through dreary workdays confined in a dull box that isolated them from coworkers. Instead, they were free to move about, a luxury that only gained more prominence as ultrabooks and tablets became more popular.
Then, Covid-19 struck the globe, and it changed the public’s perception regarding how people interact with one another. Unfortunately, the psychological effects of the pandemic have been exacerbated with mixed messaging from governments and health officials, creating an intense fear of panic that does not line up with available data regarding Covid-19.
The predictable effects have already shown up in the workplace, where many employees feel terrified at the prospect of going back to the office, and coming into contact with the virus. The spread of the Omicron variant essentially guarantees that every human being will contract Covid-19, whether vaccinated or not, which means at some point in the near future, people will have to accept it as a seasonal endemic like the flu.
In the meantime, expect traditional office workstations to make a not-so-glorious return to the workplace, thereby furthering the feeling of isolation that is already so prevalent in society. The good news is that it probably won’t be a permanent return to form, and companies can do a lot to minimize the paralyzing feeling of isolation that comes with a traditional workstation.
When designing the perfect office space, it’s always wise to evaluate the needs of your team, their work habits, and the areas necessary to accomplish different tasks. Even during the initial open office boom, it became clear that some employees weren’t going to take kindly to a flurry of distractions and bustle on the work floor, and would instead require privacy options for things like phone calls, HR meetings, etc.
Bringing traditional office workstations back into the workplace can be done in several ways that allow for the same effect, without feeling like an antiquated step backwards. Modern office furniture tends to focus on modular designs in order to accommodate many different employees, or sets of teams. Some of these furniture options can be utilized not just for those who need privacy to concentrate on certain tasks, but also for those who are afraid of mingling too close to others in the age of Omicron.
By taking a two-pronged approach, employers can effectively boost productivity by harnessing the power of open spaces and modular workstations, as well as catering to those individuals who need some reassurance while getting back into the swing of things. It’s a win/win scenario that embraces the needs of every employee, while making sure that efficiency remains the primary element of the workspace.
The objective should be to bring traditional office workstations back into the workplace, without utilizing actual cubicles. Indeed, the open concept office trend has already taken this into account, so it’s really just a matter of reinforcing the idea that employees are safe. Rather than relying on the walls of a traditional office workstation to keep the potentially infected at bay, modular open concept workstations can be divided with clear or transparent protective screens that prevent droplet transmission. This keeps employees in the loop, and feeling like they’re part of the company’s culture at large.
Nevertheless, some companies may insist on going back to the old days where traditional office workstations ruled the roost, but it doesn’t have to spell the end of the modern office era. Instead, these companies can focus on other amenities and design trends that can help workers feel more relaxed and productive.
For instance, banishing fluorescent overhead lights in favor of LED or natural lighting is a major plus. Traditional office workstations themselves should be decked out with aesthetically pleasing materials and colour options that match the company’s brand, while staying contemporary. Biophilic design continues to be a major health and morale-booster within the workplace, so make sure to spruce up the area with potted plants and stylish splashes of green that make employees feel like they’re in touch with nature.
And of course, a finely detailed break room with fresh baked goods and coffee options are always a welcome sight for work-weary employees who need a bit of a boost.
No matter what opinion individuals hold regarding Covid-19, the truth is that the pandemic is quickly turning endemic, and that means a return to normal. Omicron is a highly virulent strain of Covid-19 that is also far less deadly than the original variant. Similarly, less people are going to hospital, and their stay tends to average 24-36 hours, with only a fraction of patients requiring ventilators. As case numbers soar, death spikes remain extremely low, and these are all good things. The chances of dying from Omicron are extremely low, particularly for the vaccinated, and symptoms are far less harsh in the vast majority of cases.
Eventually, every human being will have to live with Covid-19 the same as they have with the flu, and the common cold. The psychological effects of the pandemic are far worse, and will take more time to reverse, which means companies should do their part to keep employees safe, without reinforcing unreasonable panic about a virus that is well on its way towards being de-fanged.
So, whether you’re thinking about bringing traditional office workstations back into the workplace, or taking on a more modern approach to keep employees safe, remember to bring an aura of positivity back to the office, and avoid any insinuations of doom and gloom. Your employees will thank you for it in due course.
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