Post Quarantine: A Return to the "6-Feet Away" Office? Yikes.

Last week as I cruised down an empty, traffic-free 405 North in Los Angeles at 5 p.m. — a feat that all Angelinos know is near impossible if it weren’t for lockdown — I got to thinking about how people won’t be happy going back to what was “normal” before coronavirus. Namely, sitting in traffic and working in an office all day.

If there’s one thing I think this quarantine life is teaching everyone, it’s that when you remove the stress of commuting and sitting in an office, you just have more TIME. More time to enjoy little moments with your family and yourself. This was a huge lesson for me when I left corporate America and the startup world four years ago. And with the new time and work/life balance I’ve experienced as a completely remote worker, I’ll never go back into an office again.

Like me, there are likely not many people in this world who value commuting and working all day over their kids, wife and hobbies. So, how does everyone just" “go back” to what it was before if you were able to figure out working remotely from home during coronavirus?

Fast Company recently wrote an article titled, “Our offices will never be the same after COVID-19. Here’s what they could look like,” where they detailed out the new vision Cushman & Wakefield (C&W) has for offices post-virus. C&W has been testing new layouts with almost 10,000 companies now that China is sending one million+ people in their workforce back to office buildings. They’ve given this concept a moniker called the “6-Feet Office” and it includes these guidelines:

  • Desks spaced six-feet apart

  • Circles around desks so nobody enters your ‘safe space’

  • Guides for employees to walk in clockwork lanes around the office, and only walk clockwise, never counterclockwise

  • A paper placemat for each desk that is replaced every day

  • Beacons or “alarms” that sound when people get too close to each other

Photo Credit:  Cushman & WakeField

Photo Credit: Cushman & WakeField

Now, let’s completely set aside the fact that C&W is a commercial real estate firm, so it’s in their 100% vested money interest to get people back into offices — fast — and for companies to keep their large office spaces and not downgrade their building size or monthly rental fee.

If we set that aside and look at the 6-Feet Office guidelines above, does it sound safer? Maybe. Will it work to prevent the spread of the Rona or other infectious diseases? Possibly. Does it sound creepy and very dystopian to head into an office every day and walk around in clockwork zombie paths, never getting within six-feet of your coworkers to have a conversation? Um, 100%. Is this completely ridiculous and unnecessary if you can just conduct your work from home? Um, 100%.

I’d love to hear the benefit of companies rushing their employees back into an office. I think this rush has less to do with “human connection” like a senior leader at C&W quotes in the Fast Company article. And more to do with companies still feeling like they want to control employees and everyone will “get more done” and be accountable if they’re in the office — a common argument from out-of-date corporations against the idea of a remote workforce.

So, what does the “post coronavirus” professional environment look like? I think the world is still far away from most companies being fully remote (although it’s such a shame every business can’t quickly transfer to this type of work-life because it does keep operating costs down and produce happier and ”astonishingly” more productive employees, according to a Stanford study).

I’m guessing like C&W is doing in China, most companies worldwide will try to jam everyone back in an office and traffic and pollution will once again climb. However, I’m hoping that the world gets closer to at least a partial split between the 6-Feet Office and a remote office. Let your employees work from home, people. We can still feel human connection by connecting with our coworkers remotely over tools like Slack and video calls. Or maybe our need for human connection just shifts to being fulfilled through time spent with friends and family, instead of our coworkers. Working remote will keep all of us safe from the spread of even the common flu, it will make us more productive, and it will save kittens, unicorns and babies.

It might be a long time before this new business future is realized or solved…none of us have the answers yet. Meanwhile, I’m going to cruise down all of these traffic jam-free highways and dream about this type of “work from home” environment that I love so much, spreading across the world.

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