SINGH President Harvind Kaur Singh considers what social engagement and office spaces will look like in our “new normal” workplace world.
Are you ready for workplace re-entry? We have spent more than a year being locked up in our own homes and lives, but the time is here – we are able to gather again. It is important to think about how we are going to retrain ourselves for social interactions. The pandemic has created so many new positive normal behaviors. But it has also instilled a certain complacency and fear about re-entering the world of work and socialization.
It will not be easy. Most of us have spent a year internalizing public health precautions; it is no wonder re-entry is causing anxiety. We will still wear masks and distance in some instances, but we can come back into the world safely. There are so many issues employers and workplaces must confront when considering the new office environment. Not everyone is able or ready to take the vaccine, which adds another complication. Looming questions of how to maintain our family culture do keep me up at night.
Ultimately, it will depend on how we encourage people to create routines with safe social engagement. METRA’s campaign outlining their cleaning protocols and the addition of more train cars should create a sense of safety for those who want to return to offices in the City. Since the beginning of the pandemic CTA has enacted enhanced cleaning with new technologies and procedures.
We must also consider what offices are going to look like. Many companies are changing the set up of their footprint. Many are jumping towards savings and getting rid of space. Instead of individual desks and standard conference rooms there is now a trend of more reserved “hot” desks that can be booked ahead of time. Conference rooms are being reimagined to allow for on-line and in office collaboration, and will necessarily have to be larger. I do not believe this is the only or best approach. It is important for people to feel invested in so that they can truly feel the ownership of their position. Taking away individual desk space because more people are working from home does not make sense to me. Am I not worth the little bit of rent it takes to give me some privacy? We most recently saw the trend toward completely open offices. That did not work so well for many people.
In my mind, the struggle will be realizing that not all uncertainty is bad. The fear is legitimate, but should not be immobilizing. I am confident there will be more resources to help us all overcome our anxiety about returning.