Compared to the stuffy and cubicle-filled offices of the the past, many of today’s open-concept corporate offices were designed with an eye toward fostering close collaboration between employees.Modern open plan offices area hallmark of the tech boom of the 1990s and early 2000s. However, in our current age of coronavirus, physically bringing people together may not be the most shrewd decision for your business.
In the absence of a vaccine, the aspects of modern workplaces, as we know them, will probably have to change. Returning en masse to a crowded office isn’t something your employees may be willing to do, especially if a return to their desks can’t be done safely. Experts suggest that any reopening of the US economy will most likely involve a combination of short-term fixes aimed at boosting worker confidence, coupled with longer-term design upgrades and modifications to the physical office environment or workplace.
Get Used to Employees Working From Home
As coronavirus morphed from “just like a flu,” to a pandemic that forced governments to issue stay-at-home orders, companies scrambled to empower their employees to work from home. Before coronavirus essentially stranded a majority of American workers at home, companies had been rather slow on the uptake with regards to allowing employees to work remotely. Data from the US Census indicates that only about 5% of US workers worked from home full time in 2017. A 2019 study by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that 26 million Americans, roughly 16% of the workforce, spend at least some of their time working remotely.
According to a survey from Gartner HR, a leading business analysis research company, it is expected that as coronavirus restrictions begin to ease, we could see close to 41% of US employees working remotely in the near future. While not all companies can transition to 100% remote work, especially big corporations with thousands of staff, some of the big names are making the switch. Twitter, Facebook, and Microsoft, as well as a host of other name brand companies, have all announced plans to allow a large majority of their employees to work from home. Even as the US starts to reopen, your business may need to think carefully about who should return to the office and who can and should continue to work from home.
Reduction in Business Travel
Love it or hate it, business travel has long been integral for many companies. But that too, may change. Business travel is not just risky but costly. According to American Express, the average business trip can cost more than $1,400, and employees can lose almost seven hours of productivity. Even before coronavirus hit the business world, and halted worldwide travel, video-conferencing companies like Zoom and Skype, reported that companies were able to save millions of dollars and worker hours by simply organizing around using existing technology to link to meetings. Rather than flying across the country, using up precious time, and taking clients to expensive dinners, business deals can often be done online. As more businesses show that they can successfully work and host meetings and conferences from the relative comforts of home, the digital approach to business travel may very well become the new normal.
A Socially Distant Work Day
The CDC and other public health officials have been promoting the idea of social distancing since the beginning of the pandemic. They see it as an important, relatively simple, and non-medical action that can help slow the spread of the coronavirus, keep people healthy, and save lives. However, your employees may not all have the luxury of being able to work remotely. Construction workers, mechanics, fire fighters, police offices, and even restaurant staff may find it harder to follow social distancing guidelines. Both OSHA and the CDC have put forth a few recommendations that they feel can help workers of all stripes, as the country reopens.
Your company could potentially allow flexible work hours, or reduce overall hours so that fewer employees are on site at any given time. Implementing staggered shifts and building extra time for employees (or a cleaning service) to thoroughly sanitize work areas is also advised. Companies can also look into how they seat their employees, whether this means only allowing one person per vehicle at work sites, or a spread out office footprint of socially distant desks. The cubicles of bygone office days may see a comeback, as by nature they offer a little extra protection for workers. Your company might consider raising cubicle wall heights and adding other physical partitions that help prevent the spread of human to human transmission.
In a relatively short time, coronavirus has changed how the world works. There is no doubt that in some ways we will all return to normal, but other aspects of our regular and working lives will never be the same.
For further reading on the impacts that coronavirus is having on the business world, check out our other blog posts: