Rwanda: Desk Shields, Large Spaces - How Covid-19 May Affect the Future of Office Space

15 January 2021

The Covid-19 pandemic has led to extraordinary human challenges in different aspects of life, and the workplace has not been spared.

As social distancing measures are being implemented almost everywhere, corporate companies around the world have adopted new ways of working, aimed at creating more space in office as well as avoiding contact among the workers.

Trends like remote working, working in shifts, and special physical adjustments of office space have been thrown into the limelight.

Today, a number of workplaces have experienced change in some way. And experts say, some of these changes may even live on, even after the pandemic is gone.

Denis Otangocinge, the Chief Executive Officer of Ogaru Constructions and Consultancy Limited, a company working in interior designing for both office space and homes in Rwanda and Uganda says there is a lot of things that covid-19 has taught the entire world, including office space designers.

During these unique times, his company has been involved in making office designs in line with protective measures, and he reckons some may live on - for example, widely-spaced offices may be more adopted.

"In the past, people could even sit in an office of 2 by 2 meters, as long as it is well planned. This time it is going to be very hard to save space. There will be quite large space required because you need a lot of spaces in the room, for aeration to bounce," he says.

Besides that, Otangocinge says the pandemic has brought to new ideas about how corporate premises manage the waiting areas where clients and visitors sit.

Here he thinks that for more safety, offices may go for designs that put structural barriers between one person and another or the size of the area will be increased so that there will be more space in-between the people.

In addition to this, inside the offices themselves, he says there might be designs that will be maintained for some time, for example, desk shields.

"Some designs that I think would advisably stay include the desk-shield. This can still assist in protecting the health of the people. For example, when a person comes to office and has a cough or flu, a desk-shield can assist to reduce contact and chances of infection can be fewer," he says.

By the time this newspaper spoke to Otangocinge, his company was in the process of designing a safety system for some office in Kampala, and he said, the design they were negotiating to make for them was close to permanent.

Now, that is for the structural aspects of offices. How about the operational aspects?

During the time of the pandemic, operational changes have been commonplace especially in form of remote working, and working in shifts. It is reckoned that these may also be more adopted going forward.

Allen Kendunga, a human resource consultant working as the Chief Executive of Talent Match Rwanda, says the impact of Covid-19 in the workplace is not going away anytime soon,

"It is not all bad (the effect of Covid-19 on the workplace), because I think that people have realized that you don't have to be in a physical office space to be productive," she says.

"Companies are realizing how office space is expensive. And I think that even after Covid-19, I think there will be continuous remote work to cut costs," she adds.

In addition to this, she says the pandemic situation has emphasized the importance of using digital collaboration tools that were oftentimes under looked at the workplace,

"I think today people are seeing the importance of tools like Trello in their work, and they are actually embracing them more," she says.

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