With many countries now taking their first tentative steps towards recovery from COVID-19, some organizations are testing the water by gradually returning to their physical workplaces.
As humans, we have an innate desire for ‘normality’, and the pandemic has taken us far outside the realms of what we could have previously conceived as normal. What we have arrived at in social and economic terms, is a new paradigm, where the working and living environment has changed – possibly forever.
Before the pandemic, ‘the office’ was often considered critical to productivity, culture, collaboration, growth and talent acquisition. There was intense competition amongst organizations for office space in major urban areas, where a physical hub was deemed essential for success.
However, the demand for flexibility in where and how people work has been building for many years.
Now, having spent the last few months working remotely for at least some of the time, businesses globally have adjusted to the new reality. So, what will the physical workplace look like in the future?
Let’s take a look at what we’ve gained from the colossal upheaval of these trying times and explore what the new working landscape will look like – along with the challenges we’re likely to face.
Positives in the new workplace
During the pandemic, employees and managers alike have been taken aback by the speed and efficiency with which they’ve embraced digital collaboration. New and emerging technologies for video conferencing and other forms of unified communication and collaboration have provided better than hoped for results.
Even before the pandemic, the ability to acquire new skill sets, and the speed of work application was becoming an increasingly important factor in employability. With the pace of change, the ‘shelf life’ of many technical skills is rapidly shortening, and organizations are obligated to learn fast. The widespread increase in the use of video conferencing tools, collaboration applications and the adaptability of employers and employees will help businesses to be more resilient once the crisis recedes.
According to McKinsey research, 80% of people questioned reported that they enjoy working from home. 41% claim to be more productive than before, while 28% say they are as productive. Employees liberated from long commutes and endless hours of travel in their jobs have found more productive ways to spend that time.
For many organizations, they can access new pools of talent without locational constraints. They can implement innovative processes to boost productivity, increase motivation and create a stronger culture.
Saving on real estate costs
Occupancy studies have shown just how inefficiently office space was being used. It was found that on average, employees around the globe are not at their desk 50% to 60% of the time.
The work disruption caused by COVID-19 will never be forgotten by enterprise leaders, shareholders, employees and other stakeholders. The measures implemented to maintain business continuity have been a lesson in what to expect and how to prepare for future disasters.
The impact on sustainability
Climate change experts have been struggling for decades to convince the world that it needs to change its habits. Since COVID-19, we’ve seen a dramatic reduction in traffic, pollution and congestion. While sustainability has not been a major driver in the push towards remote working, it may just be the thing to convince organizations that it does make a huge difference.
Potential challenges in the new workplace
Returning to the office, even in a reduced capacity, won’t remain as it was before the pandemic. With staggered work hours for many employees, and new rules inside the workplace regarding social distancing, things will seem foreign – at least in the beginning.
IT on the frontlines
With the rapid increase in the use of complex technology during the crisis, IT teams have become the backbone of many organizations, and are already taxed to the limit. With some workers working from home some of the time, and in the office some of the time, employers will need a strong team to support both in and out of office employees – all of the time. New policies will need to be implemented and maintained as infrastructures change.
Ensuring safety in the workplace
Most companies will implement enhanced hygiene procedures, requiring masks or face shields to be worn. Some businesses are redesigning workspaces to ensure physical distance and restricted movement.
Communication is paramount
It’s vital that there is clear dialogue between employers and employees while redefining the new normal. Flexibility with regard to different working schedules, commuting, contact with others will need to be considered.
Making sure new collaboration tools work seamlessly
While the crisis may have required workers (and employers) to learn new skills and use new tools, it’s important to maintain continuity both remotely and in the office. In the complex world of unified communications, there is a lot that can go wrong, and IT teams can only do so much. But you can streamline your UC operations and improve IT efficiency with the right tools.
No matter what your UC environment looks like, whether your business is supporting remote working, or on premise, or both, you need to be able to see it all from a single viewpoint. The new post COVID-19 workplace means more complexity and that means you need to find a way to manage that complexity.
The current pandemic has shown the need for flexibility within an organization so that it can rapidly adapt to ensure business continuity in case of the next crisis or unexpected event.
The rising trend of the mobile workforce doesn’t mean that physical office space will become redundant, but it will no longer be the only place to be productive and process work.
Contactless office spaces, with no-touch doors and buttons, connected devices, sensors, and biometrics will help optimize workspaces and enable a more productive mobile workforce post COVID-19. It seems likely that the physical office, just like technology, will become a tool with which to perform – or a place where people will go for specific tasks.
There is no doubt that technology has had to take a giant leap forward to stay on top of a global pandemic, and as many of us return to our desks, we’ll be faced with a less familiar, but potentially enhanced working landscape.