While it may be hard to imagine now — between days spent trying to not only wrangle children but also teach them, juggle work responsibilities with requests at home, and dealing with the daily updates of how much damage the COVID-19 virus has done to society — there will come a day when many are asked to come back to work in an office.
But what kind of office will they come back to? The coronavirus pandemic has forced businesses to reassess and re-imagine what workplaces may look like going forward.
Cubicles and desk spaces were practically second homes for some, at times spending more waking hours there than at their actual homes. Now architects — both physical and financial ones — are are wondering if those spaces will ever be filled again.
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For about two months, hundreds of millions of square feet in Manhattan office space have been all but empty. Some big banks have suggested they may never bring all their employees back in.
Dror Poleg, a commercial real estate expert, said that not only is it possible companies will start looking at changing their office space down the road, but some have already been saying it.
Poleg is the author of "Re-Thinking Real Estate," a book that — even before the pandemic shuttered entire countries — was projecting big changes in how office space will be used in the future. He says landlords will now need to convince companies there's a need for those desks and board rooms that many now realize have been taken for granted.
"If you own a great building in a great location, that's not going to be enough any more," Poleg said.
For those who do return to traditional offices, architects say we're likely to see lots of new technology like touchless doors and some more subtle designs aimed to help with physical distancing.
"Sometimes the idea is as simple as having everybody walk in one direction so that you're not crossing paths with people spontaneously throughout the day," said Sam Cochran, the features editor at Architectural Digest.
Cochran agreed with other architects in that some newly vacant offices could be converted to lofts and apartments in the long term. In fact, architect Aaron Schiller said it's not a terribly difficult transition, and some of the changes could happen rather quickly.
"We're in a housing crisis. We all know that and wouldn't that be great if we could do that. I think it's a great possibility," Schiller said. "Probably about 40 percent of the existing office towers in New York are capable of doing that in a time efficient manner."
Peter Zuspan, and architect who works at Bureau V, said that the "economic fallout that may come from this (pandemic) may open up some amazing opportunities to redefine the city. And I think part of that is fundamentally finding ways to reuse commercial space as living space."