The Future of Workplaces – Post COVID-19
Despite the fact that so much is still unknown, employers are already beginning to consider how their workplaces will look and operate after “stay at home” orders are lifted. And while the future is impossible to predict, we can already see changes in how people do work, where they do work and how workplaces are configured that might give us some insight.
Many who work in offices will find that their employers are more likely to allow continued remote work and/or flexible schedules. According to Global Workplace Analytics, approximately 56% of the U.S. workforce has a job that is compatible with remote work, but before the COVID-19 pandemic only 3.6% of those workers worked from home at least part of the time. The organization now predicts that 25-30% of those workers will be working from home multiple days a week by the end of 2021.
Employees have long been requesting to work from home, and now that many companies have been forced into providing infrastructure and digital tools to support remote work, and employees are proving that they can be trustworthy and productive from their home offices, employers are likely to reconsider the need for everyone to be in the office all of the time. Plus, as companies begin to envision a plan to return to the workplace, it is likely that social distancing orders will remain in effect for some time so having fewer workers in the office at any given time will be a necessity.
When workers do eventually return to the office, Cushman & Wakefield has been at the forefront of researching new ways to work with their 6 Feet Office Initiative. The 6 Feet Office Initiative is a design-based strategy to encourage workers to keep their distance through both visual cues like rugs with 6-foot radius markers, and office configurations that ensure employees remain a safe distance apart. Other ideas include placing arrows on the floor to mark one way, clockwise foot traffic, a method used in hospitals to reduce pathogen exposure, and providing disposable desk pads for employees to use each day at their workstations.
Office workplaces aren’t the only ones affected by social distancing protocols; manufacturers are now evaluating and implementing measures to keep their workers at a safe distance and can look to essential employers to see how they are adapting their practices. Much of the measures put in place are obvious including easier access to hygiene stations, increased screening for fevers and other signs of illness, and more separation between workers on the lines. But there is also an increased urgency for robotic technology and remote or machine learning-based product inspections. Because the numbers of workers in a manufacturing plant are now limited, these companies are also becoming innovative around sending sets of teams (office workers, designers, and engineers) to work from home, while rotating shifts of others. These practices are illuminating new possibilities of remaining productive and cutting costs.
While things will likely be difficult for some time to come, I am encouraged by the flexibility and creativity being reported in workplaces. If there is a silver lining in this, it is that moving forward businesses will be more agile and prepared in handling crises, workers will become more fluent in technology and safety practices, and more employers will recognize the need to support employees’ mental and physical health. I am confident that we will see many industries emerging on the other side of this pandemic with more resilience, efficiency and innovation.
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