Even as COVID-19 cases mount, companies are making plans to reopen. Everyone is keen to get back to work, but epidemiologists caution that a rush to recommence business as usual could spark a second wave of fatalities, and that employers need to implement measures to prevent virus transmission among workers, or between workers and customers. Much of the planning—by real-estate companies, architects, and public-health officials—revolves around implementing new technology, or renovating spaces to enforce social distancing: installing temperature checks at building entrances, upgrading ventilation systems, making elevators and doors voice-activated, and making open offices less crowded and virus friendly.
But redesigning space is not the only option for businesses that want to reopen while lowering the risk of a second wave. They can redesign their time, too. Reducing hours, without cutting salaries, might help many companies speed up the return to normalcy, and help them prepare for the future as well.
The logic is simple. About 70 percent of offices in the United States are open plan, with people working at desks four or five feet wide and 30 inches deep, often surrounded by co-workers on three sides, and sharing common spaces like elevators, hallways, meeting rooms, kitchens, and bathrooms. To follow OSHA recommendations and enforce social distancing in the office without leasing new square footage, companies will have to reduce the number of people in an office by about half.