The modern workplace of the post-Coronavirus world will be remarkably different from what came before. Are you ready for change on an unprecedented scale?
It’s August 2020 – five months since the UK locked down in an attempt to alleviate the Coronavirus pandemic. Five months after the time where most of us became remote workers, whether we wanted to or not, things are slowly beginning to change. Schools opened for some year groups, shops reopened, and now, offices are beginning to welcome workers back. However, this is not a return to what life was like before the pandemic. Until there is a vaccine (and possibly not even when a vaccine comes), life can never go back to normal.
In this article, we’re going to look at how the world of work will change as we emerge from lockdown. Will anything be the same again?
Working from home is here to stay. It was a new experience for many of us when lockdown happened, and we may have thought it was temporary. Wrong. A survey by the CIPD found that 37% of UK workers expect to work from home at least some of the time after the pandemic passes. Before lockdown, that number was 18%.
For these first few months of remote work, most companies patched new workflow processes together with the help of technology. Leaders tried to run their businesses the same way they did before the virus emerged. Meetings that would have taken place in-person ran over Zoom. Conversations between colleagues happened in Slack rather than by the coffee machine.
However, if remote work is to become a permanent situation, expect companies to totally reorganise the way they work. It’s time to get serious. We will see more technology in our work, driving speed and efficiency. We will see new processes cascading down, designed to get the most from home workers with minimal contact. Those extra hours that became yours during the pandemic because you didn’t have to commute anymore? Your employer might want those back!
New working practices
As companies look for new ways to make the most of the situation (with a sympathetic Government on their side who want to avoid an economic disaster), workers may see changes to the way they are employed.
Many employers could shift their emphasis from taking on permanent staff to employing temporary workers – giving them the flexibility to increase or decrease their headcount in response to demand. Employers will say that they need this flexibility to cope with possible future outbreaks. However, they will need to balance the performance of these cheaper workers, compared to fully-trained but more expensive employees. As a result of this, expect the number of people working in the gig economy to grow.
People may also see changes to their employment relating to days in the office. Experts believe that if offices are to operate safely after Corona, the sweet spot for capacity is 30%. Rather than choose who comes back to the office permanently, risking the wrath of those who do not get the result they want, companies may decide to rotate who is in the office. Employees may find they are in for two or three days each week, then at home for the rest.
Where companies need to step up to the plate is around how they look after their employees. Not everyone adapts to change in the same way, and some people will be dealing with the post-Corona world better than others. Companies must provide support and understanding, especially around mental health, to the people that work for them.
The post-Corona office
For employees that find themselves commuting back to the office, even if it’s only for two days a week, life will be very different.
Offices will need to be redesigned to keep the people working in them safe. The goal will be to minimise close contact between employees – so it looks like the end for open plan. Expect more private offices, cubicles and zoned-off desks. We will see one-way systems imposed in offices, so people cannot walk past each other.
Deep cleaning every day will become a necessity. Office furniture will trend towards materials that can endure potent chemical cleaning products, such as stone or laminate rather than wood. Carpets will need to be able to withstand chemical cleaning each evening. Experts recommend ultra-violet air filtration systems that can deep-clean the office air when the workers have gone home.
We could also see changes to office tech. For example, to minimise large numbers of employees touching the same surfaces multiple times a day, companies could install voice-activated coffee machines and water coolers.
Finally, we could also see regular temperature testing for workers, even employing sensors underneath desks to monitor body temperatures. However, the issue here is what companies do with the data they gather. Is privacy still crucial in the post-Corona workplace?
The wider impact
All of these measures will drastically impact the lives of employees. Companies will have to totally alter the way they operate, which could affect their bottom lines. There will also be an impact beyond the world of work.
As companies decide that they don’t need offices anymore because they can function happily with remote workers, we may see empty commercial properties, less crowded roads and trains, fewer sandwich shops that serve office workers. We will undoubtedly lose many established businesses, while new companies, offering solutions to today’s problems, will emerge in their place.
We could even see the end of the city as we know it. After all, why would people want to live in an expensive flat in London when they don’t have to go there to work anymore? Could there be a new migration to the connected countryside?
We are still at the very early stages of the post-Corona world. The virus has not been beaten yet – we are only just learning how to live with it. All we know is that the impact will be massive, we will have to wait and see on the details.
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