Employers will rely on a fair amount of technology to bring workers back to the office in the COVID-19 age, office design experts say.
Some of it will be to connect to offsite co-workers and clients, while other components will be used to reduce coronavirus transmission.
“There’s got to be a lot of touch-free features,” said Don Ricker, senior associate with global architecture, planning and design firm Gensler.
After walking into meeting spaces with automatic doors, or with no doors at all, workers could access room amenities without touching light switches or presentation screen knobs.
“We already have sensors, so the lights will turn on,” Ricker said. “People will be able to turn (on the TV) from their phone. That technology already exists.”
Once the meeting begins, some of the attendees will be missing — physically, that is. Even when offices begin to fill, immune-compromised workers or those who simply fear contracting the virus may continue to work from home using video conferencing.
“We need to still be able to connect to the people who are working from home,” Ricker said. “We’re going to see more (conference room) screens. We’re going to have cameras.”
For onsite workers, electronic room scheduling will become even more important, he said.
Use of hands-free toilets and infrared thermometers will be other ways technology will help repopulate offices, said Megan Robinson, marketing team leader for NBS Commercial Interiors, a Troy-based Steelcase dealer that also provides cleaning services.
Employers also can use technology to gauge employee mental health with the added stress of COVID, she said.
“We’re going to be a little more fragile and the organization will have to be mindful of that,” she said.
That may include communicating company disinfecting and social distancing procedures to workers or taking surveys about employee morale.
“Leaders may have to spend more time managing their people,” Robinson said. “Are we taking care of people’s emotional and mental health, as well as their physical well-being?”