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Scheduling, office layout changes likely ahead for reopened businesses

Updated May 6, 2020 - 8:45 am

When the time comes to leave your work-from-home makeshift office for the real thing, you may find your desk to be unrecognizable.

That is, assuming you can physically find your desk or you still have one at all.

What, exactly, a return to work will look like following the global spread of COVID-19 is anyone’s guess, though some business leaders and the Vegas Chamber are going to give it a shot.

The chamber, along with Matter Real Estate Group, is hosting a webinar series aimed at helping local business owners navigate the choppy waters of an eventual return to the workplace. The four-part series, “Going Back to Work,” begins at 11 a.m. Wednesday with “Day One,” a three-person panel discussion and Q&A regarding the first steps to take for a return to the office.

“We can’t predict the future, but we can help our clients prepare,” said Kylie Roth, global strategy leader for furniture company Knoll and one of the panelists.

It’s difficult to completely prepare for a return with remaining health restrictions and uncertain timelines, she said, though it’s not impossible.

Roth notes two components: Creating physical spaces for people to safely work and helping those who are wary about returning feel safe. Companies have begun rethinking building layouts and thought about providing hand sanitizer, but companies might also want to consider developing etiquette around office behavior, like not crowding in an elevator, for example.

Tom van Betten, vice president of Matter, will moderate Wednesday’s webinar addressing physical changes to the workplace and the various “stages” of coming back to work.

The big question, he said, is who comes back and when?

For many businesses, that may translate to some employees continuing to work from home after restrictions are lifted, van Betten said. Others may consider staggering shifts to limit the number of employees in the office at once.

Those staffing changes could lead to fewer desks, varied office layouts and fewer chairs in conference rooms. He noted other emerging ideas, including one-way hallways and carpets marked with six-foot circles.

“I hate to say it, but you’re probably going to be wearing a mask in the office,” he said.

Second wave

Those hoping for a swift return to life before the pandemic are likely to be disappointed. Businesses should prepare for a possible second COVID-19 wave and a return to shutdown conditions, van Betten warns.

And temporary changes are likely sticking around as the world awaits a vaccine, said Darrel Fullbright, office practice lead from architectural firm Gensler.

Fullbright, also a panelist, said the days of everybody going to lunch at noon are likely over. Same goes for “call center-style” office seating.

He anticipates better filtration and circulation systems within office buildings, but long-term questions about office operations and footprints linger.

Will tenants need more space with better social distancing rules or less space with more employees working from home? Does working from home hurt or help a workplace’s productivity?

“These kind of discussions we’re having right now will have a profound impact on the future of the workplace,” Fullbright said.

Meaghan Levy, who registered for all four webinars, is curious what changes could come to office buildings and retail stores, and how businesses can go about a new normal of wearing masks and social distancing.

As director of property management services at Newmark Knight Frank, she hopes to return to her owners and tenants with information on how to safely run and operate their businesses.

The remaining three parts — “The New Power Lunch,” “Your Brain on COVID — How Fear will Prevent your People from their Best Work” and “No More Hugs: How to Keep and Grow your Team’s Culture with Six Feet of Separation” — will take place from 11 a.m. to noon on May 14, 21 and 28.

Attending the webinar is free to the public regardless of whether someone is a member of the chamber. Visit gotowebinar.com/register to register for the session.

Contact Mike Shoro at mshoro@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5290. Follow @mike_shoro on Twitter.

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