This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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Since the pandemic sent workers home last year, a slew of modifications have been made to office buildings to protect against the spread of the coronavirus. Now, as companies prepare to bring workers back, experts say even more changes are on the way.
Expect expanded gathering spaces and fewer personal workstations, for instance, changes that are being fueled by the success of working from home. Companies like Google, Microsoft and Walmart have already announced proposals for hybrid work models that will allow employees to continue to work remotely at least a few days a week.
These new arrangements mean companies may need less office space, and some have already cut back on their real estate needs, according to a survey from the consulting firm PwC. Target said this month that it was giving up office space in downtown Minneapolis, and in September, the sporting goods retailer REI sold its newly built headquarters in Bellevue, Washington.
“We really are at an inflection point,” said Meena Krenek, an interior design director at Perkins+Will, an architecture firm that is revamping offices, including its own, for new modes of working.
Last spring, while lockdowns were in place, landlords and tenants prepared for what they thought would be a return to the office in the summer and fall. Desks were dragged 6 feet apart and Plexiglas barriers installed between them. One-way arrows were stenciled on corridor floors, chairs were removed from conference rooms, and an elaborate choreography was developed to determine how and when teams would return to avoid overcrowding.
Then many workers simply stayed home. As the pandemic dragged on and people got the hang of Zoom, many discovered it was possible to be productive while parked on living room sofas or in backyard lawn chairs.