Covid-19 Has Changed Office Space and Work-From-Home Forever
14 Apr 2020
CBRE expert on lessons learned so far and how post-Covid workplaces will be different
It’s too soon to know exactly how the world will change in the wake of Covid-19. But there’s no question that we are poised to experience a significant shift in the way we work and where we work.
According to Lisa Fulford Roy, Senior Vice President and Head of CBRE’s Canadian Workplace Strategy Practice, it’s clear that while technology has allowed for remote work for years, most companies have not figured out working from home at scale, and many employees are experiencing challenges doing it for an extended period of time. “We’re seeing how tech can make or break an organization. Companies that held back on investing in technology are now experiencing big challenges processing work and maintaining connectivity with their suddenly remote workforces.”
Working from home has long been positioned as a comfortable alternative to traditional office spaces. But enterprise-wide shifts to remote work amid Covid have revealed some less talked about pain points:
- Ergonomics: A month working from home with a less than ideal office setup — an inadequate chair or desk, coupled with household noise and distractions — can lead to physical discomfort and injuries that could take time to reverse. “This needs to be top of mind for organizations now and post-Covid-19,” said Fulford-Roy. “Companies wanting to support a flexible workforce must set their people up for success so they can practice proper ergonomics at home.”
- Work-life balance expectations: Work-from-home has also reinforced the importance of work-life balance, which has been complicated as families shelter in place. “We are getting into a different rhythm these days, prioritizing family time, quiet time, time away from screens, as well as where we choose to work and for how long,” Fulford-Roy said. “We’re realizing that we need to set boundaries around our work, and so we’ll likely see more work-life balance expectations from employees going forward.”
Back to Work
When it comes time to return to the workplace, the Covid experience will have lasting impacts:
- Respect for remote: Organizations have been forced to re-think how and where we work. Most employees now have a first-hand and deeply personal understanding of working from home. And the longer we remain at home, there’s a greater chance managers and leaders develop skills and confidence in managing remote teams. Not only will remote work be supported, respected and trusted by more organizations in the future, but it may be employed as a strategy to maintain social distancing in the short term. (That said, while work-from-home will be more widely accepted, employees have gained a new appreciation of the benefits of in-person collaboration, engagement and mentoring.)
- Safety first: Though it’s too early to predict exactly how organizations will change in the wake of Covid-19, we do know that “business as usual” will be re-examined through the lens of employee safety and security. “Organizations had already been focusing on people-centric workplace solutions to attract, retain and engage talent,” said Fulford-Roy. “That trajectory will become intensified and accelerate how we value and support talent post-Covid.”
- New policies: Expectations of personal space and increased hygiene have changed, possibly forever. And as infection control and social distancing requirements persist, employees will expect to work in spaces that conform to new standards. “Not knowing who’s been sitting at a desk and touching your keyboard or sharing a crowded lunchroom will be stressful for employees,” said Fulford-Roy. A gradual return to work, with new cleaning policies and procedures, will help employees feel safe. A clean desk policy, whether that desk is assigned or unassigned, also will be essential. In the short-term, seating could be managed in a rotational manner, allowing for deep cleaning and 24-hour periods between use.
- Tech helps: Technology can mitigate some concerns. Before Covid, tenants and landlords were beginning to track office usage with sensors that determine if the space is being occupied efficiently. Post-Covid that same technology can identify which heavily trafficked areas need deep cleaning, where density is too high, and which workstations are both free and sanitized.
“How back to work is managed will be critical for employee health and well-being and confidence in their employer,” said Fulford-Roy. “Clear communication of any changes in behaviour or policy is going to be vital to ensuring a seamless back to work experience.”
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