What will the workplace look like post COVID-19?
It has been almost a year since the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States. Essential businesses that didn’t close, and employers that have since reopened, had to quickly adjust the way they work.
As vaccines start to roll out, and a light is appearing at the end of the tunnel, what impact will COVID have long-term on the workplace?
There is no crystal ball showing us exactly what the future of work will look like post-pandemic, but there are some positive trends that many experts anticipate are here to stay.
1. Flexible Solutions
Even before this pandemic hit, remote work was accelerating in the United States. In 2018, more than 5 million employees worked at home at least half of the time.
Some roles will adopt long-term remote work, but a study by CBRE found 81 percent of employers expect at least half of their workforce to be “office-based” in the future.
Office-based doesn't necessarily mean full-time in-office working. It could be a mixture of in-office and remote working with more than 50 percent of the employee's time spent in the office. This mixed work schedule approach will create a greater need for agile office spaces adapted to the needs of a hybrid workforce.
Office spaces will need to accommodate a flexible workforce. Potential changes to office layouts and floor plans include floating desks, more shared spaces, smaller conference rooms, technology that makes the transition from home to office seamless, and office layouts that provide safe spacing and social distancing.
Business owners will want to have spaces to better prioritize the work that needs to be done in person. In-person meetings and projects that require collaboration will need to be factored into office layouts. Employees, including full-time employees who pre-pandemic spent their entire workweek in an office setting, may be expected to perform their independent work from home.
2. Enhanced Cleaning Measures
To keep the workforce safe and healthy, there will continue to be an increased focus on enhanced cleaning and sanitation measures.
Regular cleaning and disinfecting protocols implemented to protect from COVID-19 will remain in place to ward off future pathogens. Employees will be more attuned to how the flu and colds spread and will expect safe and clean offices.
Employers will continue to implement cleaning measures that minimize the spread of germs. There will be an emphasis on hand sanitizer stations, touchless faucets and wastebaskets, disinfecting wipes and masks.
Offices will continue to implement incremental changes to the workflow. Many shifts in workflow that were made due to COVID have been embraced by employees and are here to stay.
Short term plans that were initiated to reduce interaction have resulted in quicker turnaround times and greater employee satisfaction including:
- restricting equipment usage to only one employee,
- reduced touchpoints by propping doors, switching to no-touch waste baskets, and installing motion lighting,
- and spaced waiting areas and one-way workflow routes to minimize germs while speeding the work process.
Also, since many employers leaned on their employees for help developing and implementing plans, employees better understand the process thinking and embrace the changes implemented.
Employees will expect employers to continue to expand safety protocols and measures including ventilation and air purity measures to ensure pathogens are being filtered as much as possible.
3. Technology Enhancements
The pandemic forced many businesses to rethink how they do business. From curbside restaurant pickup and contactless payment, bank apps and self-check-in for appointments, no industry has been left untouched.
A recent study found that 95 percent of IT professionals said their organization changed their technology priorities during the pandemic. Additionally, 71 percent of respondents said technology projects were implemented within weeks rather than the months or years it would have taken before the pandemic.
In 2020, piano lessons, exercise classes, doctor visits, and even the classroom were brought into our living rooms and kitchens. Industries and business leaders who previously delayed technology improvements learned to embrace the efficiencies and new sources of revenue that upgrades to their technology made possible. Looking forward technology will continue to evolve as businesses change and industries changes in the post-pandemic economy.
4. Increased Emphasis on Corporate Culture
Although employee engagement is nothing new there was, and will continue to be, an increased focus on the importance of corporate culture and employee engagement.
While employees moved to remote work, or distancing in the office, employers looked for new ways to interact with employees. Summer picnics and holiday parties transitioned to drive-by parades and lawn sign recognitions.
As business returns to the office and amidst the ‘new normal’, leadership teams will continue to develop new ways to engage their team. Creativity will continue to be embraced as employers infuse their brand into the way they build their culture. Employers will continue to implement and expand more regular check-ins, email updates, education sessions and other steps that continue communication.
And while many companies are still working full-time remote, or in a hybrid model, many say their long-term goal of getting employees back together. Companies note remote challenges including team building, sharing of information and new employee onboarding.
This is seen with Amazon’s recent announcement of their plans to expand their physical offices in six cities - New York, Phoenix, San Diego, Denver, Detroit and Dalla - noting long-term the importance of space for employee training and collaboration.
5. Increased Focus on Employee Health and Wellness
A recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that 48 percent of Americans said they or a family member has skipped or delayed medical care because of the pandemic. And 11 percent of them said the person’s condition worsened because of the delayed care. Nearly 40 percent of Americans said stress related to the coronavirus has negatively affected their mental health.
Business owners know there is a correlation between employee wellness and productivity. As a result, employers will expand their involvement in the lives of their employees by increasing mental health support, focusing on employee health, and implementing increased wellness initiatives.