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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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Businesspeople working with face masks in the office during COVID-19 pandemicmartin-dm/Getty Images

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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Will it be quarantine for you?PeopleImages/Getty Images

Temperature checks when waiting to enter an office building

If you think you wake up sick with a fever, you may be better off staying home. “Lines to get into work for employees as they queue at the front door waiting for temperature checks, as well as unidirectional walkways in buildings,” says Varlaro. “Hallways that used to be bidirectional would now one-way streets. Elevator usage may also be greatly reduced, as employees do not wish to be inside such restricted spaces, nor may policies allow it.” These are the words (and phrases) about coronavirus everyone should know by now.

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More care regarding outerwear and purses

Office life will affect not just your work but what you wear. Along with disinfecting your DIY face mask, you’ll need to clean your clothes, too. “On arrival at work, jackets and coats will need to be stored in zipped bags; computer cases and handbags will need to be wiped down,” says Gain. Here are 4 household products that kill coronavirus, according to Consumer Reports.

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More collaboration and learning best practices from other geographies

Now that many people are working remotely, there’s a higher chance of collaborating with offices around the world. “There’s a huge discussion across HR, legal, and building services across the globe on how to best bring the workforce back together,” Colleen McCreary, chief people officer at Credit Karma, tells Reader’s Digest. “Best practices we’ve seen coming from other geographies have included masks for all employees, temperature regulations (either on-site or with an enforced honor system), creating partial shifts to limit the number of workers in the building at one time, reconfiguring open spaces to be more closed, limiting movement between floors to minimize the number of people congregating together, forbidding onsite guests except for business reasons, limiting onsite eating and social areas, and hand sanitizer locations in prevalent places.” Here’s what a post-coronavirus life could look like.

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No more dedicated desks for employees

The days of entering the office and heading straight for your designated desk or corner office could be a thing of the past. “Post-coronavirus, we’ll definitely see a shift towards more remote work. Some people are predicting that remote work will be the new norm; I think that’s too drastic. Remote work is optimal for certain roles, however, it’s hard to promote creativity and team-building remotely,” Sunny Ashley, founder and CEO of Autoshopinvoice, tells Reader’s Digest. “The truth will be closer to the middle: many employees will start working from home one or two days more per week. As a result, more companies will consider converting private offices into shared, unassigned desks. The idea of having a dedicated desk or a private office will become more and more foreign.” Here’s why you should still use your vacation days during the quarantine.

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The loss of office jokes?

Different offices have different cultural quirks. Some offices are big on working out, while others are big on humor. But what happens when you try to make jokes during a pandemic? “A big part of our office culture before the pandemic was jokes and banter, and we now fear that we will lose this aspect of our culture when we eventually return to the office. The issue is that almost everyone has been affected by the pandemic in some way—if not directly then they’ve probably seen a family member or friend affected,” Sam Williamson, owner of CBDiablo UK, tells Reader’s Digest. “My business partner and I fear that people will be less willing to partake in jokes and banter once we return back to the office as spirits will be down for a while. Although it might seem like a small thing, being able to have banter with your colleagues is a huge part of what makes any work enjoyable, and it would be a huge shame to lose this.” Here are 25 quarantine quotes that are actually pretty funny.

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Less travel between company offices

Before the pandemic, you probably traveled between multiple corporate offices. After the pandemic that could change. “Traveling to and from other company offices will diminish significantly as people focus on efficiently and effectively accomplishing agreed upon successful outcomes, instead of driving business behavior with outdated orthodoxies that say meeting physically face to face is the best way to accomplish work. Or the best relationships are built by being physically face to face,” Jody Thompson, author of Why Work Sucks & How to Fix It: The Results-Only Revolution and the creator of ROWE (Results-Only Work Environment), tells Reader’s Digest.

“COVID-19 has proven that work is getting done and people are still building relationships without wasting time and money on travel,” Thompson adds. “Meetings are proving to be effective over technology platforms like Zoom, SKYPE, and the like. People working from home do not need to ‘fill time’ with meetings, and meetings will become more purposeful. People are reporting that they are more focused when in technology-driven meetings.” Here are 20 time-management tips that actually work.

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Less on-site conferences

Do you miss the days of booking a flight and attending a conference with industry professionals and people from around the world? That in-person interaction might be a thing of the past. “As on-site conferences transition to virtual conferences, people will be less inclined to spend time and money traveling to onsite conferences in the future, especially if they realize they are receiving an equal benefit to attending virtually,” says Thompson. “Time is a non-renewable resource. Wasting time for a perceived incremental gain will be ludicrous.” Here are 11 productivity tips incredibly busy people aways use.

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Reduce physical office space

Someday, maybe office buildings will decrease in size because people will be working remote so much. “Many business leaders are beginning to find themselves with more office space than they need. This experience has led many to reduce office space and extend the virtual work structure on an ongoing basis. In lieu of town halls, in-person conferences and meetings, virtual conversations and team meetings will replace them,” Diane Walton, outreach consultant for netlogx, a consulting services company, tells Reader’s Digest.

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A new protocol for office etiquette

When you met someone new before the pandemic, you would greet them with a handshake. Now, there are new etiquette rules to follow—and old ones to break. “There will be a new etiquette around hand-shaking and holding doors open for each other; there will be restrictions around the use of bathrooms, staircases, and lifts,” says Gain. Here are 9 etiquette rules you still have to follow during coronavirus.

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An increase in the safety of employees

Employee safety should a high priority for any company, both before and after the pandemic. With people starting to shame others for not wearing masks in public or not appropriately social distancing, disruptions and brawls could break out, both in public and in the office. Varlaro says there’s a need for offices to “create policies to prevent in-fighting amongst employees, as well as customers. Clearly, there are differences as to both how dangerous people perceive the virus, as well as the adequacy of types of behavioral responses,” he says. “Companies will need to develop their own policies and enforce them. There may even be policies against discussing COVID-19, or distributing COVID-19-related social media posts to deter employees from fighting.”

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Less reliance on public transportation

Long commutes on a bus, train, or subway to the office was a hassle before the pandemic. Afterward, are people going to want to take public transportation? “People are not going to want to catch public transport, we can’t clean buses and trains fast enough, so this is going to have an impact on cities’ congestion and pollution,” says Gawith. Before the pandemic, here’s the average commute time in every U.S. state.

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More judgment around coming to work sick

The days of going to work sick may be over. “There will be more judgment around sneezing, coughing, people coming to work semi-sick, they will now have to stay home,” says Gawith. This is the day you’re most likely to call in sick.

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More importance on video calls

Now that in-person meetings have gone by the wayside, video calls are now the way to communicate with colleagues at home across the country and world. “After spending so much time in virtual meetings, the new work culture will likely have a renewed optimism about using video for calls. Video enhances the conference call experience in many ways–it maximizes the meeting time by keeping people accountable, for example, as people are more likely to arrive early or on time to video calls as it is more difficult to sneak in unnoticed,” Dana Corey, GM/SVP at Avocor, a global collaboration display company that works with partners like Zoom and Microsoft, tells Reader’s Digest. “Video also allows for nonverbal visual cues to be a part of the call experiences and can also attract interest from younger demographics who are more comfortable with video as a digital communication tool.” Here are 17 mistakes to avoid when on a video conference call for work.

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More employees who prefer working in an office environment

If you’ve always commuted to the office, you may find working from home is a nice change of pace. On the flip side, if you’re at home, you may crave the return to your office desk and the environment to focus on work. “Remember, that although some people prefer the remote work set-up, that does not mean they prefer doing it inside their homes,” Alex Azoury, founder and CEO at Home Grounds, tells Reader’s Digest. “Some people don’t feel productive inside their homes, and can only function in cafes or coworking spaces. Because of that, people with an entrepreneurial mindset would surely anticipate the demand for coworking space and use the opportunity to create a thriving business.” Here are 11 things coronavirus has made people change about their home lives.

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More transparency from leadership

In any office setting, it’s not just employees who play a big role at the company—leadership does, too. “I think the biggest challenge in going back to work is not for the worker, but the business leaders. We have all learned new ways to communicate and share information. At G&A Partners, we connect with our employees daily, to keep them updated on the business, and to share stories of how we are all adjusting to this new environment,” Michelle Mikesell, corporate HR vice president at G&A Partners, tells Reader’s Digest. “We have learned to embrace flexibility, and we cannot return to an eight to five schedule at the office and expect things to be just as they were before we left. Supervisors, managers, and executives need to communicate consistently and openly more than ever before. If your teams have become accustomed to hearing from you in morning huddles, virtual updates, and regular online meetings, leadership cannot return to sharing information only on a ‘need to know’ basis.” Next, learn about these 12 millennial entrepreneurs who started with nothing—and made a fortune.