The COVID-19 pandemic has been one of the most traumatic and significant experiences of the century, with huge impacts on nations, societies, and individuals. The crisis has even changed the way we work. Even though most companies have “worst-case scenario” plans put in place in case of catastrophic events, not many if any were prepared for the kind of disruption caused by the coronavirus.
The huge shock to job security since the advent of the outbreak in March and April 2020 has had huge ramifications for employed adults. The pandemic has not just altered where people have to fulfill their professional obligations, but it has also altered how they go about it. While it may not be known when the pandemic will end for some aspects of our lives to go back to normal but one thing is for sure, the term “workplace” will never be the same.
The idea of what constitutes the workplace has significantly changed over the past year. There have been critical shifts in the way business is conducted. Initially, one had to just wake up early in the morning, prepare and head off to the office work station for the obligatory 9 to 5 work schedule, but instead, work has now encroached into our living rooms, bedrooms, and outdoor areas, consequently eating into the family time and space.
Some may argue that the coronavirus pandemic will have a positive impact on the workplace culture since some of the measures put in place like the lockdown, to curb the spread of the virus, have become synonymous with working from home. Others complain that remote working is isolating, highlighting the competing priorities between employees and employers.
Either way, many companies are at crossroads. Employers who capitalize on the post COVID opportunities will be in a better position to attract new people or retain their talent when the situation stabilizes. However, those who fail to adapt to changing times will be left behind, exposing their employees to risky situations of layoffs, increased financial distress, and total closures.
Without a doubt, the post coronavirus workplace will have a different modus operandi to the pre-covid workplace. In organizations, the pandemic has been driving significant changes in employee relations as well as how they relate to vendors, clients, and customers.
So, what exactly does this mean for the future of workplaces and how should companies adapt to the changing times to improve productivity and job satisfaction in the future? Well, here is a glimpse into how the coronavirus is changing the work environment as we know it and what we should anticipate moving forward in the Post COVID-19 era.
- More Flexibility
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, many people worked from office buildings and were very content with the office dynamics. While some few people worked from home (WFH), especially young people inclined towards the GIG economy, remote working was not a popular option. However, according to data from salesforce, 61% of the workforce is now working from home. In fact, 53% of employees began working from home due to the coronavirus pandemic and they were very communicative and productive.
As a result, flexible working arrangements have become the new normal in many working environments. Surveys done on social media platforms like Twitter even show that most employees are opting to work from home permanently and are hoping to continue doing so even after the pandemic. Traditional companies like Barclays are even implementing the work from home policy.
So, does this mean that physical office work spaces will become obsolete in the future? of course not. Employers are creating more flexible worktimes, allowing some employees to visit the office at least twice a week for in-person events. However, some jobs don’t have the option of working remotely. One thing is for sure though, the days of the traditional nine-to-five works schedule are a thing of the past.
- Makeovers on the office Layout and Lifestyle
Perhaps one of the most obvious impacts of COVID-19 will be the number of people operating out of physical office space. Recent research from Gartner shows that about 74% of CFO’s will transition several previously on-site employees to remote work setups permanently, a move to cut commercial real estate costs in the aftermath of the coronavirus. Even companies that want to maintain an in-office work environment will experience changes in how the offices are structured.
The changes in the office plan are aimed at providing social distancing in the workplace to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Experts predict that we can expect to see barriers erected between desks in offices to block the spread of the virus. The typical standing desks that are common in many office spaces are also likely to see a decline in production. In some industries like food production, experts predict that it will be mandatory for employees will need to pass a health check before starting each workday to gain physical admission to an office environment.
These changes, although extremely effective cost-saving measures in the recession that will inevitably follow Covid-19, will undeniably make the physical office workspace more mechanical and less social. However, it raises a very important question. Wouldn’t a socially distant workplace with limited interactions and serendipitous conversations defeat most of the advantages of an in-office environment? Yes, it might because the traditional office set-up before the advent of COVID-19 was designed to foster stronger connectivity between workers. However, it would be better to train employees to connect better in a virtual environment rather than have no office workers at all due to the risks posed in a workplace that doesn’t adhere to social distancing limitations.
- Video Conferencing is the new Norm
Another major disruption in the workplace environment has been brought about by office closures, travel restrictions, and national lockdowns. This means that many businesses now heavily rely on virtual meeting and video conferencing platforms more than they ever did in the past.
With solutions from game-changing startups like Zoom to more established ones like Microsoft Teams, these services have proven invaluable sources of communication in this post COVID era. They are forcing companies to re-evaluate just how much money they use to accommodate face-to-face get-togethers.
The transition however has had its fair share of drawbacks. Some people fear that these virtual meetings are somewhat inferior to real-world equivalents, wary of the possible psychological impacts and the associated productivity problems likely to arise from adopting the technology. Either way, this trend is likely here to stay and employees need to get well acquainted with the technology, even if it may initially be daunting and overwhelming.
- Tougher Work-life balance
As more people are embracing the remote working setup in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, it is becoming increasingly difficult to strike a balance between work and life. Setting suitable boundaries between their work during working hours and their home life outside the stipulated business hours is difficult.
People are having to juggle their less than perfect home arrangements to ensure that they are as productive as possible during the day while still being able to enjoy their leisure time in the same environment after they sign off from work. Some people are even getting too comfortable in their homes to be able to fulfill their obligations and duties on time.
This has led to some workers adopting troubling habits for those who cannot easily transition from home-mode to work-mode while working with minimum supervision surrounded by things that can easily distract them. These distractions have led to lowered work productivity and some employees have even lost their jobs for failing to deliver their work on time. WFH employees are also faced with technical limitations such as connectivity and access to suitably capable hardware which puts them at a disadvantage.
Preparing for the Times Ahead
COVID-19 is undoubtedly driving change in our behaviors at the workplace. The pandemic may have changed how things operate but it has also forced businesses to rethink their offerings and strategies. So, today’s leaders must take up what’s working and integrate it into the daily operations.
Since no one knows how competitive the landscape will be when we emerge from the coronavirus pandemic, it would be wise to prepare now and set expectations for the ways of working that will benefit the company in the future. Instead of waiting and being reactive, now is the time for businesses to review how they have adapted to the current times, and which of the adaptations will be effective long-term strategies for future brand’s success.