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A day in the office before and during COVID-19 with Robin and Openpath

To start off, let’s state the obvious: things are different now. 

In nearly every facet of life — grocery shopping, seeing friends and family, getting around, dating, and so on — people have had to adapt to new health and safety procedures in the wake of COVID-19. 

The workplace is no exception. People were forced to leave the office in droves in early 2020. Ever since, workplace teams have been trying to adapt. 

We all know this. But, it’s worth looking deeper. What’s happened over the course of 2020 that will impact what the workplace will look like in 2021 beyond

Today, with the help of a fellow workplace software partner, Openpath, we’re going to peel back the layers of change and think through what the workday looked like before and during COVID and outline how workplace teams have overcome new hurdles with the right tools. 

The workday before COVID-19 vs. today

Let’s walk through the four core activities of any in-office workday: getting into the office, finding a seat, meeting with colleagues, and moving around the office space. 

We’re going to consider each of these aspects from a pre-COVID lens compared to our reality today. Then we’ll outline how workplace teams are adapting to these rapid transitions and what tools they’re using to make today’s workday possible. 

1. Getting into the office 

Before: Walk through the door and badge in 

Now: Multiple barriers to enter safely 

Before, stepping into a workplace required very few steps. Today, depending on local and organizational guidelines, entering an office can feel like crossing items off a long checklist (temperature checks, health screenings, rapid virus tests, a specific time slot consideration, approval from workplace admins, and so on). 

Walking in the door won’t cut it anymore. Everyone who steps foot in an office has to be part of the plan for the day. The first step to the new workday, getting in the office, is all about being proactive and putting access controls in the hands of the employees. 

How workplace teams are making this happen: 

  • Access control system - only those with the right permissions can access a specific building or floor.
  • Health checkpoints - employees complete quick health screens right from their phones before being allowed to come on-site.
  • Pre-booking flexible desks - when employees book where they sit in advance, workplace teams know what their office capacity for days to come will be. 

What this means for employees: 

Instead of a laundry list to look through, employees can get into the office with just a few taps of their phone. Instead of sweating the details, they only need to think about the day ahead. 

2. Finding a seat and getting to work 

Before: Majority assigned seating with some hot desks for visitors 

Now: Flexible seating booked in advance on an as-needed basis 

Assigned seats are becoming a thing of the past as workplace teams safely distance their floor plans and set up desks for on-demand booking

To adhere to social distancing and capacity limits, organizations have had to rework their floor plans. It’s clear the winning strategy for desks is setting up safely-distanced flexible seats employees book when they opt to work from the office. 

People aren’t coming in every day and desks aren’t littered with personal effects to keep things clean and simple. It’s not about maximizing square footage anymore. It’s about maximizing health and employee experience across a safe floor plan when an employee decides to come in.  

How workplace teams are making this happen: 

  • Flexible floor plan tools - admins can easily set up socially-distanced floor plans and employees can book an open desk in advance. 
  • Desk insight data - admins understand how an office is being used and can jumpstart contact tracing efforts should someone fall ill. 

What this means for employees: 

Going back to the office feels a lot like first day jitters. Knowing ahead of time where they’re supposed to sit and that social distancing has been taken care of makes the first steps back into the office confident ones. 

3. Meeting with colleagues 

Before: Conference rooms packed to the brim 

Now: Limited capacity rooms with focus on hybrid communication


Meeting rooms need to be set up for people to plan team on-sites and to connect with other colleagues working remotely

Odds are the majority of your meetings have been happening over Zoom or Google Workspace since COVID-19 broke. Enclosed meeting rooms and shared spaces are generally avoided in the COVID era. 

To keep things safe and productive, workplace teams have focused on fortifying hybrid communication plans for teams both in the office and sprinkled across remote locations. 

How workplace teams are making this happen: 

  • Online collaboration tools - for either collaborating live or catching up asynchronously, communication tools like Slack, Microsoft teams, Miro, and Owl Labs have been crucial. 
  • Repurposed meeting room space - besides limiting capacity, companies are repurposing meeting rooms into flexible workspaces, private offices, and even storage.

What this means for employees: 

A workplace that supports hybrid forms of communication is one that clearly has employee choice at the forefront of their priorities. Since most employees will work part of their work week at home and part in the office, knowing they can communicate meaningfully with their colleagues no matter where they are is key. 

4. Moving around the office 

Before: Wandering, wondering, and simple wayfinding

Now: Very intentional wayfinding, physical flow cues, and safe capacity reminders


Thoughtful wayfinding cues helps employees navigate the office space with confidence

Before COVID, employees didn’t need to think too much about walking around the office. Now there are implications around social distancing and the potential spread of germs from a simple trip to the bathroom. 

Because of this risk, companies have quickly understood the renewed importance of intentional wayfinding. Whether it’s physical signs around the space or tools geared towards getting employees from A to B in the safest, most efficient way, it’s clear the office isn’t a space to wander around anymore. 

How workplace teams are making this happen: 

  • Interactive office maps - employees can find their desk, a meeting room, or any other office resource efficiently off a map that looks just like their office 
  • Occupancy tracking and alerts - keeps common areas within safe limits by monitoring capacity limits live 

What this means for employees: 

Reducing friction and uncertainty in the workplace is more important than ever. Making the office easy to get around, especially during COVID, can’t be overlooked in terms of contributing to employees’ sense of overall comfort and security. 


Next up: Planning for tomorrow 

Even the most routine aspects of the in-office workday have completely changed during the course of 2020. Modifications of what seem like the most basic parts of using an office have created large implications for the future of work. 

To stay ahead of the curve, Robin and Openpath recommend workplace teams everywhere solidify a future-proof workplace tech stack with tools that are all of the following: 

Employee-centric 

People-first workflows are of renewed importance in the wake of COVID. If a tool isn’t intuitive to use or nice on the eyes, adoption will be tough. 

Remotely-managed 

It’s likely facilities or office admins won’t be coming into the office everyday anymore. Tools that allow for remote management of capacity, seating strategies, communication, and more will be key. 

Safety-focused 

This one goes without saying. Tools that support sustained efforts for social distancing and safe capacities will be valuable in the long run for the post COVID-19 workplace

Hybrid-ready

As companies rethink real estate and create distributed workplaces across cities and countries, their tools need to help them connect the in-office and remote experiences seamlessly. 

Iteration-approved 

COVID made a few things clear. One being how important it is for workplace teams to be nimble. Their tools need to help them adapt their workspace to the evolving way their people get their work done. 



Looking for tools to help power your office return and long-term flexible strategy? Openpath and Robin are here to help.