How Will We Go Back to Work?

Read Time: 7 minutes

UPDATED: 05/27/20

With some cities and states relaxing restrictions, and others reinstating as long as through the summer, it’s unclear when we’ll go back to our offices and other places of work. One thing is certain, though: We’re going to need to create carefully considered, flexible plans for return. While these designers and firms are probably not in possession of an all-knowing crystal ball, they are informed by many years of experience in workplace design, planning and wayfinding. Below, you’ll find predictions, a few takeaways, and links to more. 


A Changed World: What Happens When We Return to the Office?

Prediction: “Users will be expected to quickly learn new and unfamiliar workplace etiquette, just as they have had to adopt a new set of remote work behaviors in the weeks prior.” 

IA Interior Architects put together a client and end-user survey and free downloadable reportto identity critical areas of concern, consulting with industry leaders to elucidate how workplaces and employers can best address them.


  • 45 percent of employed Americans surveyed report feeling moderately-to-very concerned about being exposed to coronavirus at their place of work
  • Respondents ranked an enhanced focus on cleaning as the number one near term priority
  • For the long term, the most-expected change was the reassessment of working from home policies: 77 percent of survey respondents ranked it among their top three predictions for workplaces

*UPDATE: IA teams have published two blogs, Workplace Restoration: What Happens Next to the State of Work? and How Graphics Can Support Re-entering the Workplace (by Julie Maggos)


What Do Employees Feel About the Post-COVID-19 Workplace? (Webinar May 13, 2020, 6:30 pm ET)

Prediction: “The big question on employers’ and employees’ minds as businesses begin to re-open is: what is it going to look like and be like as work resumes?” 

Join The SEGD Cincinnati Chapter for a webinarpresented by Mary Dietrich, EDAC, that will provide insight into our collective concerns and hopes are for the future.

(Future) Takeaways: 

  • Insights on employee perceptions regarding well-being, safety and returning to the workplace
  • The results of a surveyconducted over the past two weeks that evaluates employees’ perceptions and expectations of safe workplaces
  • Best uses for this workplace return data


Creating Flexible Commercial Environments for a Post-lockdown World

Prediction: “Our accepted ways of moving people around the space will no longer be valid, and, they’ll no longer be fixed.” 

Jason Hutty of PAM wrote a blogthat touches on how digital systems can offer frictionless low-maintenance solutions for ever-changing conditions in public spaces.


  • Transitioning back to full-scale will take time, but how long will depend on if spaces can provide an environment that’s safe, easy to understand and adaptive
  • For a facility, implementing a tech-driven solution may be initially intimidating but the benefits are clear
  • Experiential graphic designers will make a vitally important contribution to getting our world back up and running


Entro Webinars & Resources

Prediction: “While spaces can’t easily be changed, with effective communication, we can change human behavior.” 

In addition to designing free tools for work and public spaces, Entrolooked to anticipate the future of placemaking by hosting an online panel on how placemaking has changed in light of COVID-19, and how it will continue to change.


  • the practice of placemaking—connecting people to place—is undergoing an era of uncertain and rapid change
  • A series of graphics and sign types available for free downloaddesigned to encourage physical distancing, personal hygiene and protective behavior
  • Save The Date: Thursday May 21st, 12:00-1:00pm EST for Entro’s ” Passenger Experience After a Global Pandemic,” a conversation on the ways that airports, airport environments, and wayfinding will need to respond to the upcoming phases of our world returning to travel

*UPDATE: Entro has been working with BNIM, who has posted a downloadable set of signs for re-entry to the workplace, “Future Flow”


A Common Sense Guide for Returning to the Workplace

Prediction: “Yes, the workplace will adopt healthcare industry practices and materials.” 

Cynthia Milota, director, workplace strategy at Ware Malcomb wrote a blogafter the completion of the firm’s “Return to the Office” research project, where findings affirmed that employees will push back on returning to the workplace until they feel it is safe to do so.


  • The level of organizational communications prevalent during the work from home period will be maintained after employees are allowed back into the office
  • Significant attention will be paid to “visible housekeeping” that was once intentionally concealed
  • Indoor environmental management has overnight transitioned from a line on next years capital budget to an immediate requirement


Virtual Design Festival Contributors Talk Change

Prediction: “Companies will maintain smaller offices as central ‘hubs’ while large company headquarters in tall buildings are ‘just going to go.'” 

Dezeen’s Virtual Design Festival week fourwas filled with predictions of change across multiple workplaces, from restaurants to hospitals. 


  • According to interior designer Sevil Peach,corporate headquarters will be replaced by smaller offices as staff work from home and co-working spaces
  • Carlo Ratticalls for hospitals and universities to be redesigned, saying, “even the most trite solution can sometimes also be the right one”
  • There may be a rise in escapist restaurant interiors, while menus, cash and buffets will be abandoned, according to a report by studio Roar(Dubai)


Workshops on COVID-future Adaptability

Prediction: “Together, we will brainstorm towards a brighter future for us all.” 

Local Projects is hosting a series of forward thinking workshops on COVID-future adaptability, and asks potential participants to contact them directly, submitting challenges your organization is facing and possible solutions. 

(Future) Takeaways: 

  • Better understanding of what options other companies or organizations are exploring
  • Best practices, tactics and technology advice
  • A sharper, purpose-led view of your organization


A Conversation About Returning to “A New Normal” at Work

Prediction: “People are going to need consultation, but ultimately businesses will have to figure it out and create their own best practices.” 

Kelly Kolar, president & founder Kolar Design and Kolar Experience Institute, and Mike Sipple Jr., president of Centennial Inc. and co-founder/CEO of the Talent Magnet Institute, joined forces to discusshow businesses of all sizes can be prepping for more full-scale operations as restrictions are lifted.


  • 70 percent of businesses are struggling to work out preparations for a return to operations; collaboration among businesses is essential
  • TMI and Centennial have collaborated on an e-learning platformthat offers a host of resources for making the office environment responsive
  • “The time to take action to prepare for a return to work is now—it  cannot wait”




How Will Buildings and Places Communicate Following the Pandemic?

Prediction: “In the near term, safety is paramount. But business leaders have worked hard to build a strong foundation of brand, culture, and human connection and emotion into their organization, so that shouldn’t get lost or overshadowed in the messaging, even as safety now must command a big spotlight within each space.” 

Greg Nelson of Altitude Design Office wrote a blogthat addresses the need for empathy and clarity in communications in the built environment. 


  • Now more than ever, businesses need to ensure that their brand remains intact
  • When safety is at stake, the communication should be straightforward, not nuanced, so it’s quickly and easily understood
  • Remembering that both thoughts (what people think) and emotions (what people feel) influence human behavior is vital in developing cues and communication, especially during times of crisis


Re-opening Strategies for Our Clients: Creating a Frictionless Experience

Prediction: “Visualizing wait times to enter a particular environment or, at the very least, visualizing current occupancy limits will will put people at ease and give them confidence to enter an establishment.” 

OpenEye Global wrote a blogthat gives specific advice and recommendations for solving timely issues in businesses and public spaces using digital signage technologies, including endorsements of products and services on the market. 


  • It is critical to educate your customers about health standards and expectations before entering the environment
  • Recent statistics show that one in two smartphone users use voice technology on their phones, and voice search will exceed half of all searches by 2021: This technology can be leveraged to create powerful new ways to consume
  • Customers will be reluctant to interact with a display for an extended period; therefore, designers must look to create a simplified experience


Weston Williamson + Partners Envisions Socially-distanced Office

Prediction: “Cycle hire will be free, electric scooters will be permitted, buses will be supplemented with coaches.” 

The London-based architecture studio has created graphicsto illustrate the adaptions it plans to make to its office to allow its employees to safely return to work, including transparent screens around desks, hands-free doors and a barista.


  • Williamson believes that the coronavirus should provide the impetus to improve London and other cities
  • To increase the amount of space available per person, the studio intends on allowing at least half of its 100 staff to work from home each day
  • They recommend a cleaning zone in the lobby, placing transparent screens around each desk and adapting doors to allow for hands-free opening


What to Expect on Your First Day Back in a Touch-free, Socially Distant Office

Prediction: “Today’s video analytics software, for example, might be widely used to detect health-threatening behavior in the office. But tomorrow, the same technology might be used for things that look more like straight-up surveillance.” 

As we return to work, companies will be using all kinds of new technology to help keep you safe—and track your every move. Fast Company gives us a hard look at emerging safety measures. 



  • A cleaning crew might use a phone to scan a QR code posted at the workspace to tell the workplace management system the space is clean
  • Thermal cameras are expected to become a $2 billion market this year and the FDA has loosened restrictions on their minimum functionality
  • Buildings might end up paying an elevator attendant to regulate rider numbers and push the buttons for the floors


Ideum Talks Touch and Touchless Tech

Prediction: “Touchless gesture interfaces and even voice recognition will find traction in public environments as venues begin to open up again.” 

Ideum writes: “Why weren’t gesture- or motion-based interfaces pursued more aggressively years ago? At the time, there were some technical limitations in recognizing and differentiating inputs, but those have largely been overcome.” They give us insights on touchless interfacesand practical ways to work with the touchscreensalready in spaces. 


  • In public spaces like museums, which often present a wide range of opportunities and stimuli, designers need to be careful to avoid overloading visitors with too many instructions and ways to interact
  • High-fidelity gestures in a multiuser exhibit or environment will require multiple motion-sensing devices 
  • While a stylus does allow visitors to make selections, a single stylus won’t allow for pinch and zoom, and some other gestures won’t be supported—however—a stylus can be a workable solution for most applications


Museums and Social Distancing: A Planning Toolkit

Prediction: “COVID-19 will change museums forever.” 

Specialist wayfinding and design consultancy CCD Design & Ergonomics and Smartify, the world’s most downloaded museum app, have published a whitepaperto support museums adopt new social distancing measures and effectively remobilize.


  • Recent closures have seen museums lose potentially 80 percent of expected income for 2020
  • You may need temporary signage solutions for longer than expected—anywhere from six to 24 months
  • Visitors will want to physically see staff cleaning and enforcing social distancing measures



Still hungry? Here’s a few more things to chew on: 

ThinkLab Industry Impact Survey | ThinkLab (the research division of SANDOW), is crowdsourcing week-by-week data on the interiors industry to help firms compare notes and make critical business decisions in this rapidly changing environment

Fluid Landscapes: Creative Futures in a Mid and Post-COVID-19 World | Bompas & Parr (London) predict a wild range of design and lifestyle trends that could emerge, from virtual spas to a haptic museum

SEGD Fellow Jan Lorenc was interviewed about “Post-Pandemic Design” for offices, sports venues, trade shows, travel, museums, and more on the After12 podcast