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Your Office In The New Normal

In the near future, your daily routine at the office might be drastically changed, starting with a morning self-administered Covid-19 symptom and temperature check. Your boss will receive the results through an app, and if you’re cleared, a low-occupancy company shuttle will take you to work, and everyone on it will wear a mask.

Before you enter your office, a second health check will be administered by attendants controlling access to doors, elevators, and common areas so as to prevent close contact. Traffic throughout the office might be managed like traffic on a roadway. No more open desk plans, for your desk will be enclosed by a makeshift cubicle made of plexiglass sheets, much like those seen at grocers and gas stations already.

“What employers have come up with is a mash-up of airport security style entrance protocols and surveillance combined with precautions already seen at grocery stores, like sneeze guards and partitions,” reports Bloomberg.

Keycards and sensors, perhaps your smart phone or another device, will monitor social distancing—buzzing to alert you of coworker traffic. A Google Maps of sorts for navigating your way to a copy machine or restroom. Lunch will come sealed, workers will take lunch breaks solo, and there will be no more communal coffee breaks.

“The workplaces that we left are not going to be the workplaces that we go back to,” said Joanna Daly, vice president of compensation, benefits and HR business development at IBM. “We’re going to have to learn a new way of interacting with each other that was not the way we were interacting a few months ago.”

IBM, Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Citigroup Inc. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. are among the companies re-designing the office. They’re hiring for new jobs, such as “thermal scanner” and elevator attendants and evaluating options for surveilling employees. Thermal scanners will monitor employees for fevers, and, perhaps, wandering thoughts, too. Have any concerns about the cultural transformation to which you’re bearing witness? Maybe the thermal scanner will jot that down, too. “Tracers” will track down anyone who has been in contact with those who test positive for the disease. Goldman Sachs Executives have considered bussing and ferrying traders to lower Manhattan in an effort to avoid public transportation.

Wall Street banks, as well as retail and insurance companies, are talking with HealthCheck, a platform that screens employees for Covid-19 symptoms, so they know whether to stay home or come into the office, according to Ryan Trimberger, the co-founder of Stratum Technology, which is behind the app. “[If] you see symptoms coming back, you can have that team broken up into smaller teams or quarantined.”

Co-working space provider Convene is working with Eden Health on kiosks for self-serve health screenings. The kiosks are similar to TSA-PreCheck for Covid, and low-risk employees––such as the ones who had already recovered from the illness––will enjoy quicker access to offices. “I don’t think people are necessarily going to be comfortable coming back to work right away,” said Amy Pooser, chief people officer and chief operating officer at Convene. “They’re going to want to know that they’re going to be safe.”

Dallas-based architecture firm Corgan is rethinking the office by looking to airports and hospitals, with areas for security, hygiene, and crowd control in mind, as well as anti-microbial surfaces found in health care settings for office spaces.

Practices implemented in China, such as one-way walkways, are being considered in the U.S, with IBM considering using existing sensors or finding new technology to detect when people are too close together or even walking towards each other. Already, furniture is being removed and companies will no longer serve buffet lunches.

Mark Canavarro, owner of Obex P.E. Inc., is providing hardware and panels to add walls to low-level partitions on shared desks. His orders for the first three weeks of April paced those for the entire first quarter of this year.

In order to help people deal with the change, IBM will hold a re-orientation program. “What’s probably going to be running through people’s minds is: ‘Everything else has been disrupted, I just wanted the office to be like it was’,” said Ken Matos, director of people science at CultureAmp, a worker survey and assessment provider. He holds a PhD in industrial and organizational psychology. “Give people time to mourn the past, because you may not care about it, but they do.”

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