In a matter of weeks, the coronavirus crisis has triggered indelible shifts in the way the world works. The pandemic is accelerating the onset of new trends in work — toward telecommuting, new office layouts and a different work-life balance. And we’re already seeing signs that these effects will outlast the crisis.
Teleworking has taken over.
Many of us are entering the second full month of working from home — and growing steadily accustomed to that lifestyle. Remote work has gone from an HR-level discussion to a C-suite-level discussion. According to the World Economic Forum, around 7% of American employees worked from home full time.
Now, that has jumped to more than half according to Brookings. Among the top 20% of earners — who are more likely to have desk jobs that can be done from anywhere — that share is closer to 70%. Not all of those people will immediately — or ever — go back to their offices when states reopen.
With many companies directing employees to work from home for the rest of the summer (or longer), lots of people are leaving urban hotspots, where coronavirus cases are concentrated according to news reports. If the trend sticks, it will start to reverse a century-long move toward urbanization. Remote work may increase dramatically after the crisis abates. There’s a demonstration effect that this current crisis is producing: It’s showing that work can be done from home.
Families are changing.
Suddenly, people are doing their jobs, schooling their children, and spending family time in the same space. Despite the inevitable tensions, these months of togetherness could strengthen family ties for years to come.
Several families may plan to cook more meals at home or do more arts and crafts with kids after the pandemic — incorporating crisis-era practices into normal life.
On the other hand, many working parents are more exhausted than ever, now that they have no break from either set of responsibilities — and no clear end in sight.
Workspaces are transforming
The offices workers will eventually return to won't look like those they left in March. Tightly packed conference rooms and co-working spaces will — at least temporarily — give way to spread-out office layouts that allow for social distancing. Office buildings of the future may become facilities to gather, while focused work is done remotely.
This could mean fewer walled-off offices and more gathering spaces to host meetings, conferences and other company-wide events.
Beyond that, the open office floor plan will likely stick around. Despite criticism that they kill productivity, it’s likely companies will still use the layout in an effort to lower real estate costs.
Open layouts will change, however: Desks could become spaced out, partitions could go up, cleaning stations stocked with hand sanitizer and antibacterial wipes will become the norm, and workers may seek out spaces for focused work, such as privacy booths.
Agile workspaces with unassigned seating will decline in popularity. Workers will want the security and control of having a personal space they come to every day or every few days and can clean frequently.
In shared spaces, expect more touchless fixtures, such as door sensors, automatic sinks and soap dispensers and voice-activated elevator banks.
Architects may also design spaces with durable building materials, furniture, flooring and other surfaces that can stand up to frequent deep-cleaning, which is expected to be a lasting necessity of the future workplace for years to come.
Most meetings could be replaced by email and IM
Expect your post-pandemic work calendar to contain fewer meetings overall. The pandemic has been a technological equalizer of sorts - where people previously unaccustomed to using tech tools in the workplace have had no choice but to adapt. And in some cases, workers are becoming more efficient.
People have been more patient in learning new technologies and engaging with them, simply because they’ve had to. I think those best practices will live on. I think we’re all developing new muscles to work virtually.
To that end, expect a generally more agile way of working and communicating with colleagues: More meetings will become emails, and more emails will become instant messages.
For team members who no longer work together in a central office, phone calls and meetings may move to video. This could help to build trust among workers who can’t interact in person.
When you’re able to pick up on nonverbal cues, or you’re invited into a colleague’s home via video chat, a different type of intimacy is formed in a faster way than would happen in a traditional working environment.
It could be the end of business travel as we know it
As travel of all kinds is halted, telecommuting is adopted at scale and companies attempt to cut costs and balance their budgets, many experts believe business trips as we know them will be a thing of the past.
Changing consumer preferences and greater interest in social distancing will limit large group events such as conferences and conventions for the foreseeable future. Additionally, companies will learn that some business travel is unnecessary and can be done via video meetings. He also points out as organizations attempt to recoup their pandemic-related losses, travel budgets will be cut.
Mandatory on-the-job medical screening could become the norm
Health and legal experts predict that on-the-job medical screening, such as temperature checks and antibody tests, will be a reality for those who return to work in the months ahead.
And in many cases it’s already happening: To combat the spread of coronavirus among essential workers, some of the biggest employers in the country, including Amazon, Walmart, Home Depot and Starbucks have begun taking the temperatures of their employees before they are allowed to work.
Not only are employers legally permitted to check employees’ temperatures, they are also currently being encouraged to do so by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As long as employers don’t discriminate — they can’t pick and choose who is tested — it’s absolutely legal.
It’s also possible workers may be asked to show some form of “immunity certificate,” verifying that they have immunity to Covid-19, before they return to work.
This approach, in which workers take an antibody test to confirm that they have immunity, is being embraced in countries such as the United Kingdom, which is attempting to roll out an “immunity passport” program.
However, some scientists have warned that it is yet to be scientifically proven that having antibodies for coronavirus gives a person immunity.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House coronavirus task force, has indicated that an “immunity certificate” program is “being discussed.”
“It might actually have some merit under certain circumstances,” he told CNN.
The bottom line:
It's still too early to gauge the extent of coronavirus' impacts on work, but the changes it's already creating have implications for everything from how we conduct meetings with colleagues to how we file income taxes to the nature of our lunch breaks.
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