What COVID-19 Workplace Changes Will Stick?
By Nai Kanell
Vice President of Marketing
It’s clearer and clearer that going back to “normal” won’t be an option after the coronavirus pandemic. It begs the question: what is the new normal? Major parts of society have undergone change—the workplace and the way we work included. Look ahead and it’s certain many COVID-19 workplace changes will linger to become part of our everyday lives in a normal capacity. Which ones?
To understand how the workplace will emerge from COVID-19 and what to expect in the future, all we need to do is look at what works. What has helped employers stay in business during the pandemic? What are we doing right now that’s better than what we were doing before? What do we need to keep doing to keep employees safe?
Here’s a look at some best-guess workplace changes that will stick around and thrive in our post-pandemic working world.
Remote workers and decentralized teams
Many employers have dubbed COVID-19 the “great telecommuting experiment.” They’re not wrong. Overnight, huge swaths of the workforce went from desk jobs at an office to remote work from their kitchen tables. It’s been a major adjustment for most, but that adjustment seems to have gone well. Many businesses leaned into cloud technologies and rigged up remote work processes that work.
As time goes on, it’s reasonable to expect remote work and decentralized teams to continue in one of three capacities:
- Full-time in the case of some or all employees (see: Twitter)
- Remote from work by-request or as-needed
- Remote work for emergencies
Regardless of how employers view remote work in a post-pandemic world, any responsible company will create processes and protocols to ensure remote work is possible, seamless, and agile for individuals and teams.
Many employers now ask their employees to self-screen for coronavirus symptoms before they come to work each day. A simple battery of questions and a quick temperature check can stop employees from bringing their illness to work with them. Combined with the transition to remote work opportunities, this is a process we can expect to stick around.
Not only is employee self-screening simple, it has boundless benefits:
- No pressure on employees to come to work if they're ill
- Reduce employer liability
- Mitigated disease and illness spread
- Improved workplace culture through an employee-first policy
- Lower costs to employers
Self-screening requires virtually no change to how employees work—other than if they need to work from home due to illness. A simple employer policy about work-from-home is all it takes to keep this COVID-19 trend a mainstay in the future of work.
Reduced reliance on meeting rooms
Few areas of the workplace face scrutiny quite like conference rooms during COVID-19. At a time when social distancing is paramount, these rooms are off-limits or unused for their primary purpose. Instead, employees use Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and various other video conferencing apps to get the group face time they need. As more people become comfortable video chatting, we’ll likely see a regression of meeting rooms.
There's an upside to this trend. Less demand for meeting spaces means employers can either consolidate their need for overall office space or repurpose these previously closed-off areas into more functional parts of the workplace. Conference rooms won't disappear altogether, but agile and flex spaces may serve employers better when they consider workplace utilization.
Agile workplace floor plans and designs
As employers re-think areas of the workplace to accommodate social distancing, it’s a prime time to investigate new desking arrangements and floor plans. Many facilities managers will naturally arrive at agile workplace solutions, due to how the workplace operates today. Add the decline in conference room demand and there’s a recipe for open, flexible spaces conducive to group work and collaboration.
Breakout spaces will replace cubicle stacks. Flex areas will replace desk neighborhoods. Benching will replace pods. COVID-19 has shown employers that the workplace can and should be a social environment that accommodates changes in demand and circumstance. The next workplace will be one that lets people collaborate at a distance. Fewer barriers, walls, and restrictions to communication; more flexibility, agility, and common-sense design.
Consider your own adaptive changes
How the workplace changes will vary from employer to employer. If you experimented with telecommuting during the pandemic, it’s likely you’ll continue the experiment after. Conversely, if your team missed conference rooms, you’ll likely continue using them post-pandemic. Will it be in the same capacity? That remains to be seen.
What’s important is to realize that these changes are coming. In many cases, they’re already here. It’s a matter of recognizing and integrating them into your operations. How can you walk away from the disruption of COVID-19 with tools for future success?
Keep Reading: Workplace COVID-19 Resources