The land that time forgot ... or reimagined?

Months after the pandemic hit, many cubicle-filled office spaces still appear like a neutron bomb exploded, with unused desks and other March 2020 artifacts frozen in time and nary a person in view. While many businesses weren’t prepared when disaster struck, they still had to react, resiliently. And just as when the exigencies of any crisis pass, it’s now time to evaluate lessons learned to further future-proof business contingency plans for how best to keep workers motivated and productive wherever they may be.

In a post-vaccine, return-to-work world, technology-rich processes and procedures will be essential. Already, we’re seeing glimmers of a “clean regime” to make buildings ready for workers. And we expect city governments and corporate workplace environmental architects to promote strategies that highlight hygiene as a matter of public health. We also envision the rise of a new governmental body akin to a Health Security Agency, with a budget that dwarfs the airport-based TSA’s $7.7 billion.

To enter any building or space or country, people might be required to undergo an automated, self-administered, Star Trek-like “tricorder” scan (similar to a pre-boarding scan at an airport), and be turned away if evidence of pathogens are detected. At first, it’ll be likely that Health Security Agency staff will administer the scan, but over time, the entire process may become automated — with requisite scanning equipment in the air-lock lobby of every building.

Of course, the skyscraper, the iconic urban office tower, will still captivate by offering jaw-dropping views and the thrill of hovering in the clouds. From the Salesforce Tower in San Francisco to Hudson Yards in New York City, these vertical spaces may require floor-by-floor protocols to be established (e.g., separated, masked workers, extreme cleaning, etc.), even for half occupancy.  What’s more, if perennial pandemics persist in making elevators a choke point (“after your congested commute by car or public transportation, enjoy the final shuttle to your floor”), cities might have to go from skyscrapers to “groundscrapers.” Or consider WeWork-esque alternatives like Second Home; if up-and-coming co-working spaces can create safe, healthy and well-ventilated workspaces that are documented (and guaranteed) to be safe from infectious disease, it’ll present even more alternatives for small businesses and freelancers alike.