While the coronavirus pandemic has been a difficult time for everyone in terms of safeguarding our health and learning to live with restricted social freedoms, it has undoubtedly afforded us an opportunity to revolutionise the way we work.
Now as we emerge from what is hopefully the other side of the pandemic, businesses and workers must prepare to adapt to the ‘new normal’ and the changes this means to the traditional workplace.
The great WFH experimentOne of the greatest impacts of the coronavirus crisis is the wholesale embracing of remote working by employers, even by those who had previously been firm in their belief that their employee’s roles could not be accomplished from outside of the office.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported that 49% of workers were working from home at some point in the seven days to 14 June.
While many proclaimed the pandemic would spark a working from home revolution and herald the end of the office, almost six months on the picture is less black and white.
Overall, the great WFH experiment appears to have been a success, with no visible drop in productivity and up to 98% of workers stating a preference for remote working.
However, the coronavirus has also exposed some weaknesses, such as unreliable internet, technological shortcomings and data privacy. Also, workers have described difficulties with communicating and collaborating with colleagues and the increasingly blurred line between their work and home lives.
How might a post-coronavirus office work?It is safe to say that your office is going to look and operate a little differently in a post Covid-19 world.
Immediate changes will include the implementation of social distancing measures, with office layouts rejigged to allow more space between desks, and hand sanitising stations located at all entrances.
Other precautions may include temperature checks on employees as they enter the building and more frequent and thorough cleaning procedures, particularly in high-traffic areas.
A phased return is also likely, with employees returning in waves to help test the waters.
A shift toward working from home may also have a profound impact on the workplace, particularly on how the space in the office is utilised.
For a start, if employees are working 2-3 days a week from home, firms may find less of a premium is put on office space, offering potential savings on rent and energy bills if they choose to introduce hot-desking and scale down their workspace.
With this in mind, the office could transition into a more sociable environment, with more space given over to meeting and conference rooms to allow for collaborative projects, which do not lend themselves to remote working.
The need for a greater work-life balanceDebates over how to create the perfect work-life balance have been raging long before the coronavirus crisis, but the pandemic has really pushed this issue to the forefront for many workers.
Employees will be reluctant to give up some of the positive changes to their work-life balance they have gained during the pandemic.
Josh Hardie, Deputy Director General at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), comments:
‘Remote working has been a real success for many firms and employees, and none of the many benefits should be lost.’
In a post Covid-19 world, workers are likely to start prioritising flexible working and the ability to work from home when hunting for new positions, with up to a third of young workers expecting to be able to continue working from home indefinitely.
Kam Vara, Director at recruitment specialist Katie Bard suggests:
‘For many candidates it's now a deal-breaker if there isn't an option for home working, and some are saying they want 100% home working with no physical contact with the office whatsoever.’
This desire for a greater work-life balance will also extend to workwear. It is likely employees will seek a more casual approach, having become used to more comfortable attire through the lockdown. Organizations may look to meet this expectation by implementing ‘dress for your day’ policies where the suit is reserved for when meeting with clients.
However, it’s not all been positive for employees as working from home full-time has also seen some struggles to switch off after work, with employees on average clocking more hours than before the lockdown.
Reports also suggest employees working from home on a permanent basis suffer from poor sleep more than those working from an office.
Going forward, there will need to be more dialog between employers and employees to help find a healthy balance for the workforce.
After all, a happier workforce is a more productive workforce.
An increased reliance on technologyWhile technology has always played a critical role in the modern workplace, this has never been clearer than during the coronavirus pandemic.
As part of the ‘new normal’, many business are likely to increase their investment in technology to help support remote working and minimise the reliance upon employees’ personal hardware and internet connections.
As many business quickly discovered during the coronavirus pandemic, a reliable video conferencing solution is essential for staying connected when working from home, and it may be prudent to invest in suitable hardware for employees if they will be remote working on a semi-permanent basis.
The trend toward working from home will also present new cybersecurity challenges for businesses, as new technological solutions may be needed to ensure data is secure even when accessed offsite by employees working from home.
When it comes to training, the chances of in-person workshops and seminars returning anytime soon seem unlikely. Businesses will need to invest in their e-learning platforms to ensure that employees are able to continue building their skillsets and developing professionally.
The hastening of automation in the workplace may also be another by-product of the pandemic, as businesses are forced to adapt to the needs of a contact-free economy.
All in all, while it may be a little too early to be sound the death knell for the office just yet, the coronavirus pandemic is certain to have a permanent impact on workplace culture and accelerate future work trends towards remote working.
Businesses who resist embracing the changes brought on by pandemic are at risk of looking out of date by current and prospective employees.
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