Cubicles could make a comeback after COVID-19

The novel coronavirus pandemic created a stress test for remote work for millions of Floridians and it could have lasting impacts on the work environment, going forward.

Many employees were forced to work from home and they had to make the switch relatively quickly. Some experts say companies may decide to keep some people working remotely as Florida slowly reopens.

“It does have the potential to change the future of work, if you will,” said Tammy Allen, a University of South Florida professor of psychology.

Allen received a grant to study about 500 workers across the country to see how well the quick transition panned out.

“We’re looking at manager support. We’re looking at technology use,” said Allen about some of what she will study. “But I think we’ll also find that there are employees who recognize they don’t like working from home and they prefer the in-office environment.”

It’s possible some companies may want to keep more people working from home as a cost-saving measure, as well as for safety and health reasons.

“I think that many managers who maybe have been reluctant to permit employees to work from home may find out that it’s okay,” said Allen. “It works well, that people can be productive.”

And even as workers return to the office, open and collaborative work areas may become less desirable. Businesses are turning to places like Reimagine Office Furnishings in Tampa to create more division between employees, despite the previous trend to bring down physical barriers in the workplace.

“We’re going to be looking at more dividers. We’re going to be looking at giving people more space,” said Michael Burger, the senior sales executive at Reimagine Office Furnishings. “We were going toward an open collaborative environment for years, as much density as we could get. Now we’re looking at de-densification, if you will.”

Based on the requests he’s received, Burger said workers could see added barriers to their workspace.

“Get them screens, acrylic or fabric or glass, that they can put between them or raise up so that people feel that they’ve got this safe division between them,” said Burger about the immediate needs of clients.

He also said companies are asking for guidance on furniture changes to help create social distance and help people feel safe.

“It can be rearranged. It can be modified. It can be added to. It can be subtracted,” Burger said.

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So whether you return to a traditional office or stick with working from home, researchers like Allen are finding out what can be better to develop guidelines for future remote work.

“We’re hoping that by the end of the summer, we’ll have something that we can share with policymakers and organizations,” said Allen.

Allen said those guidelines could also help managers in other situations like during hurricanes when workers may need to quickly transition to working from home.

If you feel sick:

The Florida Department of Health has opened a COVID-19 Call Center at 1-866-779-6121. Agents will answer questions around the clock. Questions may also be emailed to Email responses will be sent during call center hours.

LINK: Florida's COVID-19 website

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