The Covid-19 outbreak isn't just disrupting working life now: it's a catalyst for long-term change in the workplace.
The coronavirus pandemic has completely upended long-established work routines for many millions of people and forced companies to adopt remote working practices like never before.
Working from home has now become the norm for many people – and will be for the foreseeable future - and technology is helping to keep people connected in new ways.
“Covid-19 has made a lot of companies think very differently about how people work and how they operate and manage their workplaces,” says Dr Marie Puybaraud, Global Head of Corporate Research at JLL. “Equally employees will now have a different mindset about work as they adapt to these unprecedented times.
“Many believe these new ways of working are here to stay. It means there’ll be more focus on performance both in terms of human output and workplace metrics through high quality data.”
That’s not to say offices are redundant – far from it. But their role will equally change and companies will need to find ways to create vibrant environments that encourage interaction and collaboration as well as providing quality amenities.
So what does this new world of work look like?
Learning to work differently and collaborate effectively through digital platforms is tough – especially for those with limited experience of doing so. After a steep learning curve, many people are now used to video conferencing colleagues and clients and messaging instead of face-to-face chats.
Moreover, many people now know it’s possible to do much of their job remotely and even when offices reopen, they may expect to work more from home. Employers will need to invest in new solutions that enable them to do so. Equally, employees are learning when face-to-face contact can’t be easily replaced by technology and this will shape what they need from their workplace.
Businesses that have maintained the same work practices for years because ‘that’s just how they do things’ may need to rethink their workplace culture. Do they need so many face-to-face meetings? Is presenteeism actually impacting productivity and efficient collaboration?
In recent times, managers have had to learn to trust employees to do their jobs without direct supervision and instead rely more on their output - not the time they spend at their desks. Returning to the office won’t necessarily mean slotting back into old working patterns and relationships; if an employee can do the job on a more flexible basis, how can companies accommodate that?
Data has played a key role in monitoring and understanding the Covid-19 outbreak – as has listening to experts. For workplaces too, data is king. Collecting and analysing the right data will continue to be a priority. Then, by using it to make decisions about how workplaces need to change, companies can both bring out the best in people and add value to the overall business. In the coming years, Fast Data (real time asset and people data) will be the norm. Today’s companies will need to fill the data gap quickly and learn how to draw insights to efficiently operate facilities.
A lot of companies are resistant to change but it’s not a case of going back to ‘business as usual’ in a few months. What workplace norms could be revamped based on learnings from the coronavirus pandemic?
For some, it might be rethinking how they use their workplace, especially if social distancing is required in the coming months, and incorporating new options such as flexible space or coworking memberships. Others might consider new metrics around the human experience to better gauge how their workplace is performing. And the one big question is how can they build resilience to better position themselves for the future?
Innovating to survive is the new moto - and is essential for successful business continuity in today’s pandemic. Companies will need to take a detailed look at their existing operations and spaces to see what’s working, what’s not and where the gaps are to meet their evolving needs.
And this will inform some major decisions such as whether to downsize or transform office space and invest more in technology to facilitate more remote working and collaboration.