COVID-19

Reopening could mean redesigning schedules as well as floor plans

Meghan McCarty Carino May 1, 2020
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A worker disinfects workspaces in an office. Fewer workdays could reduce the number of people in one place at one time. Rob Carr/Getty Images
COVID-19

Reopening could mean redesigning schedules as well as floor plans

Meghan McCarty Carino May 1, 2020
A worker disinfects workspaces in an office. Fewer workdays could reduce the number of people in one place at one time. Rob Carr/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

As businesses start to think about reopening, it’s becoming clear that work as we knew it is going to look a lot different: more empty space between people, more dividers and fewer shared touch points like door handles and elevator buttons. But it’s not just work spaces that might need to be redesigned. It’s work schedules too.

Think about the typical open office — those long tables crammed with workers practically on top of one another. Simply adding some plexiglass and masks is not going cut it. Many workplaces will need to find ways to reduce the number of workers in one place at one time. 

“I do think the one-size-fits-all 9-to-5 is probably gone,” said Cali Williams Yost, a business consultant specializing in flexible work.

She said companies could stagger starting times or have fewer, longer shifts, perhaps on alternate days. “So you split people up. ‘A’ teams come in on certain days, and ‘B’ teams come in on certain days, and never do they overlap.”

The sudden shift to remote work has already forced many companies to become more flexible, so blowing up the schedule is just the natural next step, said Alex Pang, author of the book, “Shorter: Work Better, Smarter, and Less —Here’s How.”

“This opens up a recognition that there are changes in the way that we work that maybe are closer to hand, are more accessible than we thought before,” he said, like working fewer hours altogether.

Pang said a four-day workweek with employees taking different days of the week off could help solve the short-term issue of staggering shifts. Research has found it can benefit business too.

“You can actually be just as productive or more productive. People are happier, work-life balance is better and recruitment and retention go way up,” he said.

Philadelphia software company Wildbit has been working a four-day week for years.

“The hypothesis was that we are spending a lot of our days on things that aren’t really valuable — just meetings, procrastination, inefficiencies, things like that,” said CEO Natalie Nagele.

She found productivity improved after the first year, with employees able to do better, more focused work when there was less of it.

With many schools closed, persistent uncertainty about child care and companies still figuring out how to retrofit their physical space, shorter workweeks and flexible schedules could become less of a perk and more of a necessity.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Are states ready to roll out COVID-19 vaccines?

Claire Hannan, executive director of the nonprofit Association of Immunization Managers, which represents state health officials, said states have been making good progress in their preparations. And we could have several vaccines pretty soon. But states still need more funding, she said. Hannan doesn’t think a lack of additional funding would hold up distribution initially, but it could cause problems down the road. “It’s really worrisome that Congress may not pass funding or that there’s information circulating saying that states don’t need additional funding,” she said.

How is the service industry dealing with the return of coronavirus restrictions?

Without another round of something like the Paycheck Protection Program, which kept a lot of businesses afloat during the pandemic’s early stages, the outlook is bleak for places like restaurants. Some in the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, only got one week of indoor dining back before cases rose and restrictions went back into effect. Restaurant owners are revamping their business models in an effort to survive while waiting to see if they’ll be able to get more aid.

How are hospitals handling the nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases?

As the pandemic surges and more medical professionals themselves are coming down with COVID, nearly 1 in 5 hospitals in the country report having a critical shortage of staff, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services. One of the knock-on effects of staff shortages is that people who have other medical needs are being asked to wait.

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