Will our Staff Return to the Office Post COVID-19?
< 17 July 2020 >
The short answer is Yes.
Once the pandemic and its associated risks are over, we could expect the global workforce to go back to the office, at last partially. In a recent survey, 47% of UK employees felt that their employers would say goodbye to widespread remote working, post-COVID-19. Only 28% said that their employer wouldn’t go back to inflexible working models.
But should our staff return to the office post-COVID-19?
The answer to that one is slightly more complex.
The coronavirus pandemic has driven millions of workers around the world to work from home (WFH), impacting particularly desked employees. It is an effective way to sustain one’s gainful employment from the safety of our homes – a comfort that’s not available to on-site employees in sectors like transportation, hospitality, and healthcare.
The advantages of WFH are obvious. It makes it easy to practice social distancing and allows employees to self-quarantine without jeopardizing their jobs. At scale, WFH dramatically shrinks the risk of an outbreak by limiting commute, physical interactions, and time spent in public spaces.
WFH has also allowed employees to take care of children and dependents who are spending more time at home.
But could this model carry on indefinitely? There’s a business case for both routes. WFH enables incredible flexibility, letting employees log-in and be productive at their discretion. There could be mandated work hours – but unhealthy work practices like micromanagement or protocol-led time waste are removed. Also, companies save on overhead costs, increasing their margins.
This could be why TCS, a global consultancy group employing 448,000 workers, has decided to go 75% remote by 2025.
However, the pros of in-person presence cannot be denied. In departments like IT and HR, employees must necessarily come to the office, work with the equipment, interact with people, and streamline operations as much as possible. Customer-facing functions, too, like sales and marketing, could need to go back to face-to-face meetings with customer and company stakeholders.
And industries that have pressed pause on their operations due to COVID-19 – like real estate or restaurants – will inevitably go back to the office. In such scenarios, companies must take concrete measures well in advance to make the return as safe as possible. Policies like split shifts, with an hour-long sanitization break in-between, can ensure employee safety in an office campus. Companies might need to space out work stations and cubicles in line with social distancing measures. And investments in housekeeping, as well as digital technologies for collaboration, could increase.
All of this will lead to a hybrid world where there is no right way to work.
For a long time, WFH was treated as the next-best option, with most companies preferring your in-person presence at the office. After COVID-19, companies will take advantage of their reinforced digital infrastructure to drive remote collaboration. And employees will be able to stay home, stay productive, and keep their neighboring communities safe by lowering the population density in public spaces.
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