The workplace is changing - 10 post-lockdown predictions for employers


It’s been a long time since many employees have physically gone into the office. And the workplace they will eventually return to will be much changed. That’s not necessarily a bad thing! Here are 10 ways in which workplaces are adapting to meet the needs of a world changed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In time, the worst of the global health and economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic will be over. However, to get there, employers need to ramp up their planning, procedures and responsibilities in the workplace.

Here’s a look at 10 ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic could permanently change our workplaces and how we work at work:

1. Increased hygiene and sanitising protocols
More visible support for personal hygiene – like sanitising stations at regular intervals around the workplace – should be put into place. Increased cleaning and disinfecting protocols are a must.

2. Redesign of working spaces
To reduce the chances of COVID-19 spreading through contact with surfaces, real estate company Cushman & Wakefield provides employees with paper placemats for their work desks. They can throw these placemats away at the end of the day.

Similar ideas could be adapted to different workplaces to ensure contact with surfaces minimises exposure to COVID-19. Also, more physical distancing policies need to be put into place. This is a change in the trend up to now, says Arjun Kaicker,  Head of analytics and insights at Zaha Hadid Architects. Arjun notes that office desks have shrunk over the years, from 1.8 m to now 1.4 m wide and less, but adds, “I think we’ll see a reversal of that!”

3. Employers may need less office space
If planned remote or shift working means companies need to cater for fewer employees on site in the workday, they could reduce the required office space. This would significantly reduce overheads such as rent, electricity and associated office expenses.

4. Redesign of office buildings
Offices could also be redesigned and developed to reduce the touching of shared surfaces. For example, Bee’ah, a waste management company in the United Arab Emirates, has “contactless pathways”. Office doors open automatically using motion sensors and facial recognition, and a smartphone can be used to accomplish all kinds of tasks, like using a lift or ordering a coffee.

5. Less travel
Limits on vehicle and air travel have led to huge cost savings on fuel for both employers and employees. The pandemic has shown that more often than not, we don’t need to drive and fly around the world to communicate with each other or have important meetings. By using videoconferencing apps like Microsoft Teams, Zoom or Skype for Business, meetings can be just as effective remotely as in person.

6. More time and less stress
Not only do people working from home save on the time they normally spend commuting, they also spare themselves travel-related stress and anxiety. This can add considerably to their quality of life and sense of employee satisfaction. Some studies have shown that people exposed to a stressful daily commute burn out sooner than others.

7. Good news for the planet
Less travel in all forms minimises a company’s carbon footprint. Continuing this trend, established to minimise the spread of COVID-19, can keep the focus on sustainability and save the company much revenue in the long term. Having a green footprint is also a talent attraction factor to younger generations who are generally more environmentally conscious.

8. Increased focus on employee wellbeing
Wellbeing is multidimensional and includes social, financial, mental, community and physical elements. Companies can support their employees’ overall wellbeing as they adjust their health policies and their recognition and development programmes. If wellness programmes don’t already exist, they may be implemented, and employers will need to equip managers to individualise support to each employee’s situation.

9. Renewed focus on outcomes instead of work hours
Leaders will need to find more relevant and accurate ways to measure work outcomes and empower their employees. Instead of tracking inputs or time spent physically in the office, companies will shift to forward-looking metrics such as market share and customer feedback.

10. Upskilling managers
Some managers may also need to identify team members who need more support, more debt counselling or mental health coaching. Managers will need more training on how to lead teams virtually and manage remote workers as well as those present in the office. They’ll need to take more effort in connecting with each other and building emotional resilience in their teams. Employees will also need to feel that it’s safe to share their concerns and seek assistance with their managers or a company’s employee assistance programme.

As Firoze Bhorat Chief Marketing Officer at Discovery says about successfully leading work teams during the pandemic, “All this has shown me first-hand the value of recognising potential issues early, and providing support and solutions in time.”

Listen to Firoze share his insights into leadership through challenging times

What’s clear for all employers is that being proactive is key. By preparing and adapting effectively now, your team will be equipped to perform safely, smartly and consistently, resulting in the competitive edge that so many companies will seek post-pandemic.

Here’s a podcast on the changing face of the workplace

Employees will now operate in unchartered territory. Some discomfort is bound to happen as we adapt to changed basics in how we greet each other; interact; share communal spaces, and in laptops, pens, meeting rooms and more. No longer can we mindlessly go about our workday. Sheethal shares practical advice on the changes we can expect to deal with, and tools on how to manage these new scenarios.

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