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What Office Culture Could Be Like When Lockdown Is Over

The office environment you once knew has changed forever.

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It's hard to imagine that only a few months ago, you were commuting to the office, having a cup of coffee in the kitchen, and having in-person meetings with your team. Now, if you're still working and haven't been furloughed or laid off, your commute is probably from your bed to your desk, you're making a cup of coffee at home, and your meetings are now virtual. But now that some states are easing restrictions and starting to open up, what will the new corporate office look like? Here are a few thoughts from experts that dive into new office environments with more personal space, more virtual work, and more hand sanitizing stations.

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Respecting personal space

If you've ever been in a crowded conference room with fifteen of your other colleagues, that may change and you may find yourself in a wide berth as you make your way around the office. "Some people are going to be too scared to be touched by others," Shelley Gawith, a functional nutritionist who treats her patients in an office with a full staff, tells Reader's Digest. "What if a colleague brushes up against me, or how can I leave my lunch in the fridge someone else might touch it? Personal space will have to be maintained by employees so it will change the way we interact with each other. There won't be as many people physically present in meeting rooms, some people won't want to be in meetings with too many people." Here are 9 etiquette rules you still have to follow because of coronavirus.

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Company-issued face masks

Now that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends you wear cloth face coverings in public, you'll probably see people wearing masks more often than not. But what would that look like for the office? "Company issued face masks with the company logo may become the norm, as companies and states require employees and customers to wear face masks," John Varlaro, a professor in the College of Business at Johnson & Wales University, tells Reader's Digest. "The issuing of such face masks may be to ensure uniformity amongst employees, that the masks are safe, as well as to keep employees on-brand as they represent the company to customers." Here's what you should know before trying to make your own face mask.

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Flexible mental and medical leave

The pandemic has taken its toll—physically and mentally. "Fear is real, especially for any employees who are at higher risk or who have family members at home with higher risk," Amanda Roberts, owner of Origin USA, tells Reader's Digest. "We allowed more flexible mental and medical leave with self-directed or doctor-directed isolation for those who need some time off." Here's one teacher's genius strategy for addressing students' mental health.

It's important to note that mental health affects everyone, including your loved ones. "We have to remember that spouses of our employees could have been laid off, families may have additional stress related to caring for elderly parents, and their children trying to cope with distance learning could have emotional stress," says Roberts. "Being a breadwinner who is working 50+ hours and supporting a loved one through depression or other social and emotional impairments can definitely take a toll." Here's how often the most productive people take breaks during the workday.
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Reevaluating what childcare looks like

If you're working remotely with little ones at home from school, then you've definitely thought about what childcare could look like. "We always considered our employees to be extended family. With the coronavirus threat, while our collective health is at stake, we realized our employees would need help when the schools closed," Pete Roberts, CEO and owner of Origins USA, tells Reader's Digest. "So, considering the extended risk of our staff's family members, we put in place centralized and secured childcare just for our Origin family members as soon as schools closed. This kept our entire Origin family less exposed." Here are a few brilliant parenting hacks you'll wish you knew sooner.

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Businesses can reevaluate company culture

If you thought you had a grip on what your company culture was like before the pandemic hit, you might need to reevaluate when you head back to the office. "Cultures will have a clean slate to pivot forward. That means refining existing core values and mapping behaviors to/in the workplace that people are held accountable to," Julie Kratz, certified master coach, CEO and founder of Next Pivot Point and author of Lead Like An Ally: A Journey Through Corporate America With Proven Strategies to Facilitate Inclusion, tells Reader's Digest. "Everyone wants to feel included. Now more than ever, all voices being heard, all people being seen, and all people feeling a sense of belonging will be paramount."

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More intentional in-person meetings

If you think you're going to return to the office and have regular in-person meetings with your team, you might want to reconsider that option. “The value of in-person meetings will also be underlined after this time of such widespread remote work. It is likely that teams will value their time spent in-person more and will not take it for granted," says Corey. "This will lead to more focused and intentional time spent together when people do meet in person. Organizations will look at how they can improve upon meeting operations and collaboration space in their physical offices–and they will need collaboration and communication solutions-providers to support them in this change.” Here are 13 everyday habits that could (and should) change forever after coronavirus.

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No more office snacks

The days of going to the kitchen to nibble on the free food leftover from conferences or work perks may be over. "Shareable food perks like bulk snacks and buffet-style meals will become a thing of the past. Businesses will need to shift to single-serve solutions to keep a hygienic, healthy, and safe environment to help avoid contamination," Michael Wystrach, Freshly founder and CEO, tells Reader's Digest. Here are 41 foods to snack on when you're working from home.

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Recognizing the impact of women leaders

A silver lining of the pandemic is that women leaders may finally receive the credit that they deserve. "Women leaders make a difference. Countries and organizations led by women during COVID outperformed their peers," says Kratz. "Pivoting forward positively, truly embracing women as leaders at all ranks of the organization will be visible." Here's why women make the best bosses, according to science.

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Updated seating arrangements and possible traffic flow in offices

At the office, you have gone from your desk to a coworker's desk to catch up, to the kitchen, and then to the bathroom before finding your way back to your desk. In the new normal, you may have to walk in one direction. "Working side-by-side is a thing of the past–some seating areas may need to be removed or staggered," Frances Gain, a workplace strategist at M Moser Associates, a global design firm, tells Reader's Digest. "Traffic flow has to be managed, perhaps in a one-way, clockwise direction, with occasional bays where people can stand or allow others to pass, all in order to reduce proximity to others. There will need to be signage to remind everyone which way to go and what to remember." Maybe reinventing seating arrangements in corporate offices isn't such a bad idea since it turns out those trendy open offices got it all wrong.

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