After COVID-19, This Is What the ‘New Normal’ at the Office Will Look Like

This won’t last forever.

At some point, the schools, the stores, the office buildings will reopen. While the timeline for a return to work remains unknown — and will likely vary from state to state — one thing is certain: post-COVID-19, will bring a seismic wave of change.

“The new normal will look very different from March 1, 2020. Life and business will never be the same again,” said Adam Witty, co-author of “Authority Marketing: Your Blueprint to Build Thought Leadership That Grows Business, Attracts Opportunity, and Makes Competition Irrelevant” and CEO of Advantage|ForbesBooks.

Corporate leaders say social distancing measures are likely to stay in place for some time, with staggered work schedules and limited company gatherings. Personal protective equipment — such as face masks and gloves — will be a must in many offices as doors reopen, along with enhanced sanitization protocols. And some leaders — such as Fila North America president Jennifer Estabrook — will make daily temperature checks part of the new norm to screen for sick employees.

“We’re going through our planning of social distancing, staggering the workforce, everyone’s going to have masks and temperature checks and all those things,” Estabrook said today during an episode of FN’s Leading in a Crisis” webinar. “I understand that some people may not be comfortable with [temperature checks], but this is a time we need to think about other people. That’s why we all need to wear masks — to protect other people … I think we’re all going to be wearing masks for a long time.”

Essential retailers that are keeping their doors open — such as Walmart and Amazon — have already implemented some of these procedures. Walmart is requiring all employees — across its stores, distribution centers and corporate offices — to wear face masks. The company has also instituted temperature checks. Amazon, too, has implemented daily temperatures checks across its operations. In some facilities, the e-tailer has streamlined the procedure by using thermal cameras instead of forehead thermometers.

Although Amazon and Walmart have seen an uptick in demand for certain products amid COVID-19, many fashion and footwear retailers, such as Macy’s, Nike, and Kohl’s, have closed their stores indefinitely. While some companies have furloughed a portion of their corporate staff and/or implemented pay reductions for executives, employees who continue to work are in most cases doing so remotely.

Work from home was previously pooh poohed by some leaders as breeding grounds for un-productivity. But, for many, COVID-19 crisis has made it clear that many jobs can be done effectively — and in some cases, more efficiently — outside of workplace walls.

It makes sense then that remote work could increase forevermore following the coronavirus pandemic — and it’s a trend that could significantly benefit younger employees.

“Companies will reduce their office space and use more remote workers,” suggested Bill Higgs, author of “Culture Code Champions: 7 Steps to Scale & Succeed in Your Business.” “Millennials will be elevated due to their ability to be productive in the unstructured environment of the downturn.”

There are different schools of thought as to what’s required before daily life can resume: Some health experts and industry leaders, including Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, suggest that best way to get things back up and running is mass COVID-19 testing.

“Regular testing on a global scale, across all industries, would both help keep people safe and help get the economy back up and running. For this to work, we as a society would need vastly more testing capacity than is currently available,” Bezos wrote in a letter to shareholders last week. “If every person could be tested regularly, it would make a huge difference in how we fight this virus.”

But with a current shortage of tests, mass testing may not be feasible for months. And for some companies, particularly small businesses, their survival depends upon reopening sooner than that.

“Mass testing is a grand idea, but in many cases, somewhat impractical based upon the current volume of testing,” Witty said. “Many small businesses are already done. Waiting another few months to reopen until mass testing is available will be the death nail to millions of small businesses.”

While economics and public health may play the largest roles in determining when and how offices will reopen post-COVID-19, Estabrook noted that there’s also a “human component.”  Workers in hard-hit areas, such as New York, may have some well-founded fears about returning to the daily commute, she noted, and the same approach won’t fit everywhere.

“I think it’s going to take a lot of handholding,” Estabrook said. “It’s not a ‘one size fits all’ solution; it’s going to have to be tailored by office, by department, down to the person.”

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