Scenes from the return to the office


The office will likely never be the same as it was before last March. As the pandemic wears on, employers are wrestling with everything from simple precautions, like closing off kitchens and sanitizing conference rooms, to more complex procedures, like how a floating desk system works and managing a distributed workforce.

While some companies have started a slow migration back to the office, others are beginning to plan for one as some semblance of normalcy begins to come into view. Here’s a look at some of the trends that we’ve seen to this point and some we expect to see more of in the future.

Check it out below and for more coverage on the future of work, sign up for our weekly email, the Future of Work Briefing, here.

Lobby lines for safety control

Welcome back to the office, but not so fast. Your elevator lobby is helpfully equipped with a queue system to account for visitor volume. This allows for each of your colleagues to get checked and cleared at the entrance.

Temperature checks at reception

With a temperature checking technician — and part-time bouncer — in place, stop by reception for a couple of pumps of hand sanitizer, and you can head on in — as long as the office keeps the headcount below the new occupancy cap.

Cubicles become Zoom pods

Some days call for a little more distancing than others. In all likelihood, video calls are still going to drive many meetings, and we’ll need more private — but well ventilated — video spaces.

Related reading: ‘Managers need to know someone is engaged’: Getting noticed virtually has gotten harder

Taking a moment for self-care

We could all use some self-care right about now. Even if your company’s zen den is closed for the time being, employees’ mental health appears to be more on the radar than ever. Grab 10 minutes and visualize the giant party every office will throw when we can safely gather in easier times again.

Related reading: ‘Clever about how we rest’: As uncertainties drag into fall, agencies are facing a burnt out and fearful workforce

The kitchen is closed

Hope you brought snacks for your socially distanced space today because the kitchen remains closed for business until it’s safe for us to gather and share an indoor meal or snack.

Prep for the conference room

Stop at the sanitizing station before going into the conference room. Just give the prep crew in there a minute to make sure it’s a pandemic-free situation. Those suits may well be their new uniform, but hopefully not for long.

Related reading: ‘Safe and healthy’: As in person meetings resume, business execs are having the coronavirus ‘talk’

Expect meetings steeped in protocol

For the time being, the heaviest hitter in the conference room will still be the virus. So, make sure to book your conference room well in advance; give the prep crew some time to sanitize between meetings and keep it to a safe number of participants.

Related reading: ‘It used to be so easy’: How networking has been reshaped by the coronavirus

Meet the restrooms monitor

Even the restrooms are subject to rules and regulations. It takes a bit of top-down monitoring to ensure everyone gets a safe, sanitized and socially distanced break. For the busiest offices and floors, this might be even a welcome trend.

Related reading: Touchless bathrooms, desk-booking tools, cleaning rotas: Agencies outline the future of the office

Working together, protecting each other

Time was, we’d all line up at rows of open workstations. For now, we’ll have to keep flying nearly solo at these distanced pods.

Related reading: Remote working spotlights neurodiversity challenges

Mastering the distributed workflow

During the pandemic, managers have worked to balance trusting employees and monitoring their productivity. Some companies went about it with a lot of scrutiny. Some saw productivity more or less take care of itself — but all managers are dealing with the new ways we work.

Related reading: ‘An unhealthy level of guilt’: Culture of presentism is making it harder to justify taking sick days

Pausing on the games (still)

Like the kitchen and sharing a snack, the early days of returning to the office will still be no time for games. We’ll get back to the foosball table and all that great stuff soon, but for now, it’s wise to play it safe.

Related reading: ‘Don’t care about those perks’: Employees are no longer staying at companies for a cool culture

Sanitized desks and distanced workdays

When it’s time to get down to business, everybody gets some time at the big desks. Available by reservation, these workstations are safely set apart and immaculately sanitized for a comfortable day of productivity.

For more coverage on the future of work, sign up for our weekly email, the Future of Work Briefing, here.

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