Pandemic-proofing workplaces could involve new working patterns, short-term fixes, and long-term design upgrades that put safety and hygiene at the heart of workplace planning.
With 62% of employees in America working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, what is the future of work? For the last few months, you have worked at home, attended countless Zoom calls, managed Skype and Teams calls, juggled household works and kid's homeschooling, and have tried to maintain composure in the face of uncertainty. How will your workplace change in the future? While some changes may be temporary until there is a vaccine for Coronavirus, others may become permanent.
Resuming office after a period of closure
If your office has been closed for a period due to COVID-19, make a comprehensive plan for when workplace resumes that takes account of safety and good health. While preparing the plan consider the following:
- Update your risk assessment following the COVID-19: guidance for the workplace.
- Carry out adaptations to the layout of the workplace and the organization of work that will reduce Coronavirus transmission before fully resuming work and before all workers return to the workplace.
- Consider resuming work in stages to allow adaptations to be carried out.
- Redesign spaces to ensure physical distancing.
- Be sure to inform employees about the changes and provide them training on the new procedures, if necessary, before they resume work.
- Contact your occupational health service and health and safety advisor and discuss your plan with them.
- Pay special attention to employees who are at high risk and be well prepared to protect the most vulnerable, including older ones, pregnant employees and those with chronic conditions
- Have mechanism in place to measure workforce engagement and productivity
- Pay attention also to employees with close family members who are at high risk.
- Put in place support for employees who may be suffering from stress or anxiety.
- Employees might be worried about an increased risk of infection at the workplace and may not want to resume work from the office. It is important to understand their concerns, provide information about the measures taken and the support available for them.
Here are a few recommendations for organizations to take steps to reimagine how work is done and what will be the future role of the workplace:
Reconstruct the way your office works
During the lockdowns, organizations have necessarily adapted to go on collaborating and to ensure that the most important processes could be carried remotely. Most have simply reset existing processes to remote work contexts, following what had been done before the pandemic. This has worked well for some organizations and processes, but not for all.
Businesses should identify the most important processes for each major function, business and geography, and reenvision them entirely, often with employee involvement. This effort should check their professional-development journeys (for example, being physically present in the workplace in the beginning and working remotely later) and the various stages of projects (such as being physically co-located for initial planning and working remotely for execution).
Decide ‘people to work’ or ‘work to people’
In the past few of years, the competition for talent has been fiercer than ever. At the same time, some employees are less willing to relocate to their employers’ locations than they had been earlier. As businesses reconstruct how they operate and identify what can be done remotely, they should make decisions about which roles must be carried out in person, and to what extent. Roles should be reclassified into employee segments by considering the value that remote working could provide:
- fully remote (net positive value-creating result)
- hybrid remote (net neutral outcome)
- hybrid remote by exception (net negative result but can be done remotely)
- on-site (not suitable for remote work)
For the roles in the first two categories, upskilling is crucial but talent sourcing may become more accessible since the pool of available talent could have less geographical constraints. In fact, talented persons could live in the cities of their choice, which may have a lower cost of living and proximity to people and places they love, while they still work for leading companies. A trip to headquarters or a meeting with colleagues once in a month at a shared destination may serve. This approach could be a winning proposition for both employers and employees, with great effects on the quality of talent a company can access and the cost of that resource.
Redesign workplaces to better support organizational priorities
Workplaces need to be entirely rethought and transformed for a post–COVID-19 world. Organizations could create offices specifically designed to support the types of interactions that cannot take place remotely.
In the office of the future, technology will play a pivotal role in enabling employees to return to office buildings and to work safely before the vaccine for Coronavirus becomes widely available. Companies will have to manage which employees can come to the office, when they can enter and take their places, how often the office is cleaned, and if they are remaining sufficiently far apart as they move through space.
Resize the footprint creatively
A transformational approach to reinventing workplaces will be required. Instead of adjusting the existing footprint incrementally, businesses should take a look at how much and where space is required and how it fosters the desired outcomes for productivity, culture, collaboration, and work experiences. This kind of approach will also include questioning where offices should be established. Some organizations will continue to have them in metro cities, while others may choose suburban campuses over big-city headquarters.
Shift to ‘people-first’ from 'business-first'
To successfully navigate the new normal of the offices, organizations need to approach work from home very differently in the present context. The business continuity strategy has to be redefined shifting the focus from business-first to people-first, that is, be client-centric and employee-focused in operations. With remote work environments becoming the new norm, businesses need to ensure continuous training and learning programs for employees to enhance their skills and make them ready to fight the current situation. There is also an urgent need to create an enabling ecosystem around the workforce to promote virtual collaboration and remote collaboration.
Rethinking the future of work
This is an opportunity for IT companies to evaluate new avenues of responding to the current situation and preparing for the future. Accelerated adoption of modern technologies will help organizations in remaining connected with their employees, customers, and a larger business ecosystem in these tough times.
Businesses will keep on running. Life will continue. It may not just look the same as before. Can all these changes take place at once? Maybe. It depends on the type of business you are into, your industry, employees, partners, risk factors and other financial and non-financial factors. Will these changes become permanent? It is too early to answer this question. Organizations may monitor the public health situation and collect employees' feedback before reaching to a conclusion. One thing is certain in this uncertain time - changes to the future of work are waiting.