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The 2 meter company; the new standard in the office?

Worldwide we speak of the era before and after the coronavirus. Experts agree that we are facing a big change, at least in the short term and maybe beyond. In BakkerElkhuizen’s native country, the Netherlands, Prime Minister Rutte talks about the 1,5 meter economy becoming the new normal. But what will this new society look like? And how will it works in an Office Environment?
 
"The Spanish flu started in the spring of 1918 and in March 1920 the last victim fell. It took two years before the threat was over. As long as there is no vaccine, it is uncertain how long Corona is in our midst and the 6-foot economy is the daily reality.
The dream
We are now working extensively at home; where at all possible. Before the coronavirus era, home working seemed like a beautiful dream for people unable to do it. How nice it must be to write that report or make that analysis in a quiet room, without disturbing office distractions. No questioning colleagues, no movement around you and no noise pollution. It all sounds so idyllic.



Work/Life Balance comes to an end
Working from home has a downside, particularly at the moment. We are commonly not alone in a quiet, enclosed space as we’re sharing it with other householders, also sheltering in place. Our workstation is also less than ideal, sitting at a slightly too high kitchen table on a slightly too low, uncomfortable dining chair. We don't always have the right tools at our disposal and in addition to that we also provide education for our children and we need a new structure that works for everyone in the family and for the company. This new situation is stressful.

The balance between work and private life is completely blurred for the time being. Not to mention missing out on face-to-face contact with colleagues and all the other social constraints. Home is now a place to work, live, go out and maintain social contacts. This extreme will get better in time. When the children go back to school and we find ourselves in the 6-foot society, working at home gets a positive dimension.
 
The “after coronavirus” era
Many governments around the world are thinking about what society will look like once the coronavirus is under control. We'll probably be in a transitional phase for up to two years before we reach the real new normal. The fact remains that in the coming months we will take cautious steps towards normality. Companies are wondering how things will be when employees return to the office? How can we apply the 6-foot rule? Will there be the expected shift from working only at the office to working at home for one or more days as well? What are the psychosocial issues involved in bringing nervous employees from relative isolation back to a comparatively crowded office?
15 years back
Bill Gates introduced the term the New Way of Working in 2005. But working from home as we knew it before the corona period was not always the real New Way of Working.
The New Way of Working is a style of working based on principles such as managing for results, personal responsibility, trust and, above all, freedom for employees to decide more for themselves when and where they do their work. Time and place independent and activity based, i.e. you choose the place that best suits your activity. Home is only one of multiple options.

Mandatory 5 days working from home has nothing to do with the New Way of Work. In these early days of homeworking for many, companies have arranged it so that the day starts with a meeting between manager and employee in which the latter must indicate what he or she is going to do that day. At the end of the day, contact is sought again to ensure work has been done. Trust isn’t quite there and so personal responsibility isn’t being freely given. The principle of the New Way of Working isn’t there and thus this period shouldn’t be judged as a genuine test. The most important idea behind the New Way of Working is that the employee knows what the most efficient and effective way to do their work is. The moment this trust exists and this style of working is actually part of the business operations, we notice that fewer meetings are needed and the number of e-mails is greatly reduced.
All going back to the office at once? Not possible!
The 2-meter society is going to have an impact; we probably won't all be able to go back to the office at the same time. Solutions will have to be found. In turn requires new flexibility from companies and their employees.

The office environment
Office environments are going to look different and there needs to be more distance between employees in the office, meeting and lunch areas. Creative solutions will need to be devised to guarantee safety and health, items such as privacy screens will become a must have. The number of workplaces in a department may be reduced. The meeting rooms will have to be larger. In offices where space is limited, walking routes or ports of refuge may have to be created. Anything to respect the required distance. That is a challenge and whether it can be realized depends on many factors. We are dealing with a complex situation in which everyone has a major role to play.

Fewer people in the office
And like I said before, we won't be back in the office with the whole team. We'll have to think about that, too. Who continues to work at home and when? How can we help employees keep an eye on their work/life balance?

Hygiene
Hygiene will also play a bigger role. Perhaps we will no longer see a mouse and keyboard on every desk used by different users in hot desking environments, but each user will have their own mouse and keyboard. Also making hand sanitizer and wipes freely available around the space will be needed, so that the area can be cleaned first.  

The complexity of measures
As a company, we can implement our measures, but what other consequences are there to consider for the rest of society? If we all go back to the office together, what will public transport authorities need to do? They will take their own measures but what consequences will that have for us and our daily commute? In short, we can't just look at ourselves, it’s a bigger picture question.
We are writing history
This society will go down in history. We talk about a before and after period. The world is changing and we may never go back to the way it was before. That affects all of us. Perhaps we’ll see a true introduction of the real New Way of Working with personal responsibility and not the high degree of control. Our new standards of personal contact will become the new common decency. No more shaking hands, we’ll be keeping a polite distance on the street, in the shop and in the office. This is no longer rude, but necessary. The offices may also look different; more screens/panels between desks, less crowded meeting rooms. We are certainly going to face new challenges in these strange and bizarre times.



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