Remote work has perhaps been one of the most significant impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the business landscape and global economy as a whole. The pandemic has given many organizations the opportunity to experiment with the concept of working from home on a much bigger scale than they could have afforded to, before the coronavirus outbreak.
Now, the question everyone is asking is, "what does the future hold for remote work?" There is no denying it may be challenging to go back to the way things were before the pandemic and consequent lockdown. A survey of business leaders by Gartner found that 82% of business leaders plan to maintain a partial work-from-home structure even after the public health crisis has been sufficiently managed, while 47% are looking to implement permanent remote work policies for their employees going forward.
In this article, we will look at how the corporate world can prepare for post-pandemic work culture, one where remote work is no longer mandated which will probably see an increased use of workplaces.
- Change the office
Getting employees back to the office after several months of working from home is not going to be easy. However, they will be more easily persuaded to return to the office if their working environments are upgraded, not just for aesthetic reasons but for the purpose of improving safety measures as well. For instance, incorporating features like staircases so that people could avoid the close confines of an elevator when moving between floors can go a long way in encouraging your employees to get back to the office.
That said, it's pertinent to understand that while refurbishments are good, redesigning the workspace alone isn't enough to get everyone back to the office. Creating a flexible, hybrid atmosphere can also help. Now’s the perfect time to create more of a clubhouse office workspace rather than a mandatory clock in and out system. Allow employees to come and go, or set 2 days a week that they work in the office. The deal here is to slowly ease them back into the office environment while also making better provisions for work.
- Guaranteed staff welfare
If you want your staff to return to the office, then it's vital that you factor in their health and wellbeing. This tells them that their employers genuinely care about them, not just because of what they bring to the organization. Providing a safe space to work is the priority, people will only return if they feel safe. Your employees need to know their health is your top priority, and the organization will do everything necessary to keep them safe.
Your office space should be repurposed with personal space in mind. Granted, close quarters can facilitate collaboration amongst colleagues, nonetheless, greater focus should be put on creating workstations that allow for personal space. Another approach to ensuring staff welfare is reducing occupational density. This can help ensure your employees work efficiently while adhering to social distancing measures without encroaching into another's personal space.
Additionally, it's imperative to understand that your employees may require expertise beyond what you can provide. Recognize when this need arises and do your best to connect your employees to the right resources that can provide professional counselling that will help them cope with their mental health as they deal with the anxiety and dread they may feel about returning to work in a pandemic.
- Collaboration and face to face innovation
With almost everyone working from home, virtual meetings and online conferences are now the order of the day. However, considering the fact that 70 to 93 per cent of all communication is nonverbal, companies that conduct business mostly by phone or email leave a lot of their messages open to misinterpretation.
Now, while it can be argued that video conferencing applications like Zoom and Skype allow for face to face conversations that engage both audio and visual aspects of communication and pick up on important nonverbal cues, the truth is that it's still not quite the same as in-person interactions due to internet speeds impacting reaction times, screen resolutions, and so on.
The point here is, nothing beats having everyone in one place collaborating and bouncing ideas off each other. In-person interaction ensures that nothing is missed and that body language and facial expressions are seen and understood during critical business conversations, to avoid inefficiencies and miscommunications that may arise from using subpar communication tools. Moreover, offices provide a physical space to bring people together to coordinate activity, output and performance and to boost creativity in a way technology can only struggle to replicate.
In all, the COVID-19 pandemic is not the end of the physical office. As a matter of fact, the office plays an essential role in collaboration and employee productivity and it's projected that even as the function of the office evolves, offices will remain a fundamental part of corporate culture for the long term.