As the great pandemic of 2020 infiltrates every corner of our lives, there is one place perhaps more than any other that has been affected. This is the office building, the defining architectural typology of the past 100 years, whose very existence is now called into question. The global media is full of headlines like ”Death of the office” and ”The rise and fall of the office” as organizations struggle to reconcile a return to office working with strict new hygiene and social distancing rules.
The key question is therefore not when we will return to the office, but how we will return to working within office buildings. Will post-pandemic workplaces start to resemble those familiar old offices of the 1980s with lots of cubicles and compartmentalization? Will occupancy levels in offices will be driven down significantly to keep returning workers at a safe distance from each other?
Will the reception experience in most workplaces switch from coffee, corporate videos, and magazines to hand sanitizers, temperature checks, and face masks? Or will offices step up a level to become more amenity-based and event-based spaces for training, mentoring, innovation activities, and large face-to-face meetings rather than simply hosting routine daily work? In this last scenario, the office is reimagined as a high-end catalyst for social interaction and creativity, while the more routine stuff is done remotely.
But while the debate on the future shape of the post-COVID-19 workplace looks set to run and run, there is one element that is unanimously agreed upon: smart technology will have a significant role to play in any future office scenario.