The new office space: 'exclusion zones' and plexiglass?

One-way corridors, exclusion zones around desks and transparent plastic screens between workspaces.

Offices could look very different after stay-at-home orders are lifted and employees return to work.

International real estate company Cushman & Wakefield oversaw the return of almost a million people to offices in China and has come up with a design concept for the possible next phase of office life, says company executive Bill Knightly.

"It comes down to some basic concepts, things like colored carpet or, in a less sophisticated or expensive application, taping off what six feet workstations look like. So, it's very visual. In some cases, installing Plexiglass or some other form of sneeze or cough guards to give folks additional insurance.”

Floor signage for one-way traffic flow and individual entrance and exit doors may also be used to keep employees from passing each other face-to-face.

The new layout would be a reversal from the recent design trend - communal office space that encouraged camaraderie and teamwork with densely packed cubicles and socializing areas, says Brad Bell, professor of human resource studies at Cornell University.

“So, I think it will be a major upheaval for organizations to reconfigure their workspaces that way. And I think will be difficult for employees who have come to enjoy those interactions with their colleagues.”

There are also likely to be fewer employees returning to offices.

"I think a lot of companies, having gone through this, are going to realize that maybe remote work is feasible in a lot of jobs and situations where maybe in the past they really didn't think it could work. And I think what my conversations with companies are revealing is employees are remaining productive. They're getting the work done. And in many ways, are performing much better than many companies thought they would be."

Those who do return could be faced with the biggest change right at their building’s front door: temperature checks and other screening processes before they’re even allowed to enter.

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