Life with the coronavirus: How will the pandemic affect our workplaces?
Living with the coronavirus pandemic, we will never look at our workplaces in the same way.
This virus has upended our lives. It seems as if we’ve entered a dark tunnel and we don’t know how long it will be until we come out on the other side. Shelter-in-place mandates have many of us appreciating, more than ever, the simple luxuries of eating out, shopping at the grocery store, and taking walks. We want to be together, but struggle to find a way. We’re finding that we crave the everyday interactions in our communities and at our workplaces.
Several experts predict things are going to get worse before they get better; however, I’m optimistic we will soon see light at the end of the tunnel. When we do, we will start to look at our workplaces in a new light.
We’ll prioritize human connection
Our collective shelter-in-place made one thing clear: Our homes are not our workplaces and our workplaces are not our homes. While our homes are places of relaxation, comfort and safety, the workplace has a specific purpose. It gives us a place to collaborate with our colleagues. It motivates, inspires, and energizes us. The workplace isn’t just a building where you show up, put on your noise canceling headset, and plug away day after day. It’s a place to co-create with others, build relationships and solve problems.
There are things about our workplaces that we didn’t appreciate until we lost them. Connecting with others is part of what makes work so fulfilling. After the coronavirus, we will appreciate and value human contact above all else.
We’ll bring nature to work
Many of us have been under shelter-in-place orders and cooped up indoors for weeks. When we are able to get outside even for short walks and feel the sunshine, we often feel an immediate sense of bliss. We realize just how gloomy — even depressing — our confinement has been and just how important a connection to nature is to our health and peace of mind.
These realizations — that simple things like natural light and fresh air can lift our spirits and promote contemplation — are supported by studies that show increased access to daylight and views of the outdoors are critical determinants of our health and wellness. More natural light and views can decrease heart rate and lower blood pressure, better regulate the circadian rhythm, and even positively impact our creativity.
We will want this connection to nature and to the outdoors when we return to our offices — whether by sitting in locations that give us more natural sunlight and views, or through biophilic elements that bring nature indoors.
We’ll place greater value on our health and wellness
This pandemic has reminded us of our vulnerabilities. Beyond the immediate consequence of washing our hands every hour, it’s reminded us of the need to take care of our bodies and minds — how we sleep, how we eat and how we exercise. We will be more mindful of our overall health and the need to live better.
This focus on health will carry over to our workplaces and will heighten our awareness of how buildings can affect our wellbeing. In the past, we thought of our workplaces as just that — places to work. We didn’t consider how they were affecting our health. And I’m not just talking about the spread of pathogens (although, we will certainly pay more attention to how often we wash our hands and what we touch in the communal kitchen).
I’m talking about the building as a whole. Americans today spend, on average, more than 90 percent of their time indoors. Over the last 50 years, we’ve replaced the sun’s light with artificial lamps, fresh air with HVAC, and the sound of the natural world with humming screens. We’ve created a new human environment, and it’s making us sick. Employees working in offices with poor air quality and an absence of natural light suffer headaches, eyestrain, and drowsiness. They are less healthy, less happy, and less productive.
A recent survey of more than 1,600 professionals across North America found that, more than any other amenity, employees say they want a healthy work environment — with more natural light and views of the outdoors. And building developers and owners are responding by designing office spaces with better ventilation and improved access to natural light.
Our experience with the coronavirus will simply accelerate this movement. If this pandemic has made one thing clear, it’s that our health is crucial to our mental wellbeing and business success.
We’ll reduce the bad
We won’t just add good things to our buildings. We’ll remove the bad.
We’ll have enhanced cleaning procedures and more hand sanitizing stations. Buildings will eventually have automatic doors and voice activated elevators so we don’t touch door handles and buttons. We’ll reconsider every surface in our offices that has the potential to collect germs and pathogens. One of the biggest culprits here are blinds and shades as these are common traps for dust and pathogens. Studies in hospital rooms have found dangerous bacteria and viral pathogens on more than 90 percent of curtains and shades. Not only are they a pain to clean, but they also block natural light and views.
Smart windows make blinds and shades completely unnecessary by adjusting automatically in response to the sun and eliminating heat and glare. When we use smart windows and eliminate blinds, we let in more natural light, provide more views, and significantly improve health outcomes.
Current recommendations for the coronavirus include opening blinds and shades to let the sunshine in. But in the workplace of the 21st century, we’ll do something better: Get rid of them.
We’ll demand and expect our workplaces to be designed with our health in mind
It’s likely that most of us will want to come to work more than ever before. However, our experience with this pandemic will encourage us to care much more about our health and wellbeing at work. Smart employers will respond accordingly — by designing workplaces from the ground up with the health, wellness, and productivity of the people who live and work in them in mind.