Post-Pandemic Workplace: The Problem
As the COVID-19 vaccine rolls out, what will happen to the workplace post-pandemic? Will it be a hybrid situation? Will it be the workplace or bust? Will co-working spaces see a surge?
The problem is that there is no “one size fits all” solution. The aftermath of the pandemic and its impact on businesses will be different based on the type of business, the market, the location and other factors. There are also different types of people in the workforce. Some thrive working at home. Some crumble in a vacuum. Some crave collaboration and socialization. Some enjoy more flexibility and less distraction.
PwC’s US Remote Work Survey released in January of 2021 has shown that most workers would like a hybrid option where they can work remotely some of the time. However, because we are talking about business, the biggest decider of what’s next will almost inevitably be driven by the numbers. During these times, some businesses have seen productivity skyrocket while others have seen it tank. Some are reveling in the money saved on leasing space while others are wallowing in the loss of culture and collaboration. It will take time to really understand how it all flushes out.
Though early data indicates that productivity has slightly increased working remotely, more intangible effects such as the cultural impacts of mentoring new hires online versus in-person may take more time to measure, as well as the impact of trying to build bonds of trust online versus in-person.
Post-Pandemic Workplace: The Answer
The answer will need to be an intelligent diagnosis customized to each specific company and responding to data as it becomes available. Here are a few categories that provide a broad overview of what types of businesses may gravitate towards different work models. It is not comprehensive and does not include essential workers or those who must be in-person to do their job, such as retail and hospitality workers, but it serves to provide a point of departure:
This will probably see businesses as diverse as creative businesses, some sectors of engineering and manufacturing. Though all businesses are creative in their own way, in this case it refers to those that thrive on constant creative collaboration and hands-on teamwork where ideas get tossed around spontaneously across workstations and calling an impromptu desk meetings to get input on how an idea or prototype is developing is commonplace. The people who work here generally don’t like working in a vacuum. They also enjoy the impact and influence of the environment on how they work, as often it can inspire creativity.
In a New York Times article, Jay Foreman, CEO of the toymaker Basic Fun In Boca Raton, Florida made the tough decision that it was time for his employees to come back to the office because he believes the benefits to working together and meeting face to face can’t be replicated through conference calls or online get-togethers. “The stuff we make needs collaboration,” he said, describing the process of developing Basic Fun products like Tonka trucks, Care Bears and Lincoln Logs. “You need to hold it in your hand. If you’re trying to connect through Zoom or sending via FedEx, it’s inefficient.”
This will speak to most service industries, including legal and financial, among many others. These are businesses in which being in the office a few days a week may satisfy the need for in-person collaboration and mentoring. The workplace itself may become more flexible as personal offices become meeting rooms during remote workdays. This allows for a reduction in the office footprint saving on lease space, while still gaining the advantages of in-person interactions and trust-building. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal mentions that online education provider Coursera expects half of its 650 employees to work “blended” hours when the pandemic passes, with staffers spending 3 days a week in the office and the rest remote. In some cases, the option to work remotely will be linked to Performance Management. In other words, some companies may allow the flexibility to work remotely up to a few days per week as long as Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are being met or exceeded. Another impact on Performance Management, according to Forbes, is that it may even be necessary to create new job positions, like Director of Remote Work.
Fully or Mostly Remote Workplace
This will speak more to companies such as technology and consulting in which work can be done from almost anywhere on a laptop or phone. For example, according to the same article in the Wall Street Journal mentioned above, a company called CompuCom Systems plans to work remotely, yet with opportunities to regularly convene teams by instituting “core hours” for its employees (similar to office hours on a college campus) in order to bounce ideas off each other, collaborate and strategize.
In Hybrid or Remote situations, the alternate to the office is not necessarily working from home. There have been many examples circulating the internet of the distractions often found inside the walls of our personal domains. Kitchen tables and basement workbenches were not intended to be ideal working conditions. Another option out there is co-working spaces where employees can rent a desk or meeting space, but still be in a professional environment with less distractions. This allows companies to decentralize so employees can have shorter commutes and work closer home.
As tidy as it may seem breaking businesses into these categories, the real solution to the workplace post-pandemic is doing a deep dive and customizing an answer for each individual business. Just like fingerprints, no two companies are exactly alike.
For example, DxDempsey is currently designing new office space for a company that does not fall neatly into any one category. The company is primarily manufacturing, thereby requiring most workers to physically be there to perform their jobs. At the same time, they have a large staff of engineers, IT, HR, Sales and Customer Service professionals who can operate remotely for now, though the desire is to have them return to the workplace eventually. Therefore, we have looked closely at how they will operate in a post-pandemic world to ensure that their Workplace 2.0 is tailored to their exact needs.
As architects, interior designers and branded environment experts, we are working with companies who know they will return to the office either Full-time or Hybrid and are taking advantage of the opportunity of the workforce being remote to renovate their workplaces. This results in savings during construction because projects do not need to be phased around the workforce, thereby allowing the contractor to do the work more quickly and efficiently. We are also looking at innovative ways to enable collaboration, provide flexibility and, of course, to put safety and well-being at the forefront.
Whatever situation works best for your company, with the vaccine rolling out the future is brighter. As a society, we will come back better, faster and stronger for what we have been through and our experiences will guide the evolution of Workplace 2.0. It’s amazing how we adapted to new circumstances so quickly. When the pandemic has passed, it will be wonderful to have choices and options for how we want to work when we can safely be together again.