The workplace is shifting and evolving in some surprising ways as the response to COVID-19 develops. I know I’m not the only one who’s had to adjust and rethink the way I do business. No matter what industry you find yourself in, you’re facing some unforeseen challenges from the ongoing virus, and you’re probably wondering what the future of the workplace might look like in years to come.
I’ve heard multiple people express a desire to return to normal. But, is there such a thing as “normal” anymore?
The workplace is morphing into something entirely new. We’ve already seen major companies like Google and Facebook make the decision to keep employees fully remote until at least 2021, and many others are following suit.
And why not? After all, advancements in technology allow us to connect in real-time across the globe from the comfort of our own homes. Businesses are realizing that many jobs not previously considered remote are now viable options. What might this new age of remote employment look like? And, if employees ever fully return to the office, what will we need to ensure safety and confidence? This article contemplates the future of the workplace so you can prepare.
Key Considerations: Is it Safe to Return to the Office?
There are some important points to keep in mind here. For instance, not everyone agrees when it comes to the question of reopening. When is too soon? Or too early? To bring employees back fulltime, we need to adhere as closely as possible to objective answers and start by identifying the main areas of vulnerability within the office.
You’ll need to consider:
- Desk Placement and Floorplan: Can you ensure crucial six-foot distancing?
- Common Facilities like the Kitchen and Bathrooms: Can they be kept reliably sanitary?
- Mask Usage: Is requiring masks full-time going to be feasible?
- Cleaning Duties: Who’s responsible for keeping areas of the workplace clean?
That’s not an exhaustive list. Every company is different, and what works for one might not work for the next, so, unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. If you adopt a partial or staggered return, you need to consider who should be required to come back first and how to effectively communicate changing policies.
There’s also the possibility of employees who decide to keep their children as the pandemic continues to play out. Conversations will need to be had, and adjustments made to accommodate them. You may need to extend the option to stay remote for those who are uncomfortable in the office or who have responsibilities that prevent them from returning.
Future of the Workplace: Benefits of a Remote Workforce
Remote work was once considered an inferior option in terms of productivity and collaboration. However, recent studies have actually shown that many employees find themselves more productive working from home. Again, it varies from one person to the next, but many workers say they benefit from fewer distractions and interruptions working from home.
Remote work also allows for the possibility of more freedom and flexibility. This is an appealing option, especially for those choosing to keep their children at home.
The ongoing pandemic took away much of our sense of control. However, giving employees the ability to create a flexible work schedule could prove invaluable in terms of mental health benefits. Allowing people to work from home can give them a greater sense of control and stability, which could pay dividends in terms of productivity and quality of work. Plus, by removing the daily commute to and from the office, employees have more time to relax, exercise, and spend time with family. The future of the workplace could mean good things for both work productivity and work-life balance.
You may also benefit from reduced costs resulting from fewer office rentals and business trips, as well as the extra time and effort needed to ensure the office meets all safety guidelines. Remote work would even reduce pollution and have positive effects on the environment.
The Downside of Remote Work
As with any major change, there are also downsides to implementing a remote workforce. I previously mentioned the differences in opinion regarding reopening, and the same is true when it comes to remote work. There are three primary concerns that would need to be addressed:
- Human Interaction & Communication: Even with advanced technology, nothing can yet replace face-to-face human interaction. You need to ensure that remote employees have the opportunity to interact, collaborate, and feel like they’re part of a team. Employees might struggle to work from home long-term, and being separated from coworkers might create feelings of isolation.
- Productivity: While some employees report being more productive working from home, there are others who find it difficult to stay on a task outside the office. There are situations where there might actually be more distractions at home, especially if there are other family members or roommates present.
- Trust: Some managers have issues adjusting to leading a remote team because they struggle with trust. Simply put, when they can’t physically see their employees, they have a hard time knowing whether they’re actually doing work and completing assignments.
Each of these obstacles plays an important part in the decision of whether a remote workforce is a right step for your organization. Even with all the perks and freedoms that go hand-in-hand with working remotely, there will be certain sacrifices.
For instance, the future of the workplace might migrate away from the daily interactions that currently characterize an office setting. We could lose the ability to think as a team or forfeit the true art of collaboration. The lines between home and work life might blur to the point of employee exhaustion and burn out. Thus, if businesses transition to a fully remote workforce, they will need to consider what they are willing to sacrifice and what those sacrifices might mean for their company culture going forward.
It’s too early to give any resolute answers on what the future of the workplace might look like. The most important thing to keep in mind going forward is the need to approach the situation with patience and flexibility.
We might very well be on the verge of a totally new age of work. It’s important that you take the necessary steps to ensure your business doesn’t get left behind. Take this time to figure out what works and what doesn’t, and identify the areas in your organization that are most vulnerable.
The COVID-19 crisis has completely upended life as we know it, and the way we do business might never be the same. During this time of uncertainty and fluctuation, the only certainty is that what comes next will be multilayered. As we look ahead to the future of the workplace post-COVID-19, we will ultimately need to put our people first and work together to create a safe, effective, and inclusive strategy.
About the Author: Monica Eaton-Cardone is an international entrepreneur, speaker, and author. She possesses more than two decades of experience in the eCommerce space as both a merchant and service provider and is one of the world’s leading experts on payments and consumer disputes. Monica is the Co-Founder and COO of Chargebacks911® , a global risk mitigation firm helping online merchants optimize their profitability through chargeback management. Chargebacks911 has more than 350 employees globally, with offices in North America and Europe.