- How Workplace Tech Will Change After COVID-19
- Distributed Teams
- Team Management
- Reinvented Meetings
- The New Customer Care
- More Automation
- Increased Safety
- Beyond Technology
- ‘Business as unusual’: How COVID-19 could change the future of work
- What are the longer-term effects of the pandemic on the workplace in developed countries, once the immediate crisis is over?
- Is this a good thing?
- What needs to happen next?
- How different do you expect the workplace in developing countries to look?
- What are the benefits and drawbacks of remote work?
- To what extent will the pandemic entrench rising inequality?
- How COVID-19 could change the way we look at offices and workspaces
- Changing expectations
- So what is the solution?
- Why not share?
- What about collocating?
- Brand benefits
How Workplace Tech Will Change After COVID-19
Some of the changes companies have been forced to make during the COVID-19 pandemic have been temporary, while others will become permanent. Still, others will be the result of how the pandemic has made company executives and managers think differently about how their businesses are run.
Technology will play a huge role in how, where, and when work gets done. For example, distributed teams consisting of remote workers will ly become much more common, as will software that enables teams to connect and collaborate effectively. Automation will be employed to discourage person-to-person contact. And companies will use new systems to monitor worker health.
Companies will ly turn to nearshore development of software from companies BairesDev when they need bespoke applications for the functions listed below as well as many others.
Many companies have found the same work that’s done in the office can often just as easily be done from a home office or any location with secure internet access. Videoconferencing, collaboration, scheduling, customer care, and other types of software applications contribute to the success of distributed teams.
Another critical component for successful work from home (WFH) arrangements is a stable internet service. According to a recent Forbes article, “Internet in homes will improve, drastically and quickly…. As new homes are built or existing ones remodeled, WFH considerations will be the top priority for many.”
Yet, at least some employees will continue to return to office environments.
Technology will play a role here, too, in “[managing] which employees can come to the office, when they can enter and take their places, how often the office is cleaned, whether the airflow is sufficient, and if they are remaining sufficiently far apart as they move through the space,” according to a recent McKinsey article.
The following video describes how WFH may become a permanent arrangement for some companies and employees:
These distributed teams still need ways to connect. Creating a foundation of trust and shared goals isn’t easy to do remotely, but it’s not impossible.
Sometimes the best way for distributed team managers to telegraph trust is by not using available technology. For example, software that tracks time and workstation breaks is popular for keeping workers on-task.
But a results-oriented approach may be more effective than one that bases success on hours spent in front of the computer.
Managers can also suggest helpful tools for team members to use, such as apps that promote productivity, keep them on task for certain periods, and remind them to take appropriate breaks. For example, some apps provide a brief stretching or visualization routine to refresh and avoid sitting for too long.
Post-pandemic, work schedules are ly to contain fewer meetings. Instead, many topics may be discussed via email and instant messaging. When meetings are scheduled, they will often happen via teleconference. Travel for business meetings is ly to be minimized and large conferences are ly to be greatly reduced in size.
Meetings can even take place asynchronously, meaning that people can participate as their schedule allows. This approach is perfect for global teams or those working flexible schedules to accommodate kids’ remote schooling requirements and other personal obligations.
The New Customer Care
Business is trust, but it’s hard to build that trust when company representatives can’t meet customers face-to-face.
Videoconferencing may not be a good substitute, but it’s the best solution during this time of social distancing.
And, given the potential reduction in costs versus travel for in-person meetings, it may remain a viable alternative even when social distancing is no longer necessary.
The same is true for WFH solutions for customer care agents. With the right technology, agents can provide excellent service as long as they have a stable internet connection. Such solutions enable them to offer all the same services they would when working in a call center, including troubleshooting, returns, exchanges, and complaints.
A recent CNBC article states, “Because of social distancing measures, many organizations — from restaurants to retailers — have been forced to find ways to operate with as few employees physically present as possible.” As companies find less expensive ways of meeting customer needs, that trend may well continue beyond the current pandemic.
Even classically human functions, such as HR, may do well with automated components. Artificial intelligence (AI) can help with recruiting and onboarding. It can “write job descriptions…match candidates to jobs, allow candidates to schedule their own interviews, prepare offer letters and aid in the training process,” according to a recent Holland & Knight article.
An eventual COVID-19 vaccine is ly to be introduced to the public in phases. In the meantime, many companies will want to test people gathering together at central workplaces to ensure everyone’s health and safety.
In fact, according to the CNBC article, “To combat the spread of coronavirus among essential workers, some of the biggest employers in the country, including Amazon, Walmart, Home Depot and Starbucks have [already] begun taking the temperatures of their employees before they are allowed to work.”
The technology used to perform such tests includes thermal cameras, which simply record the temperature of each person entering a building or area. Automated face mask detection, people counting solutions, and contactless access control may also be used to ensure workers are staying safe from COVID-19 and other potential pathogens.
New technology in conjunction with specialized apps can enable workers to use their own phones to operate and control items around the office, so shared surfaces are less ly to spread disease.
Of course, all these changes can be overwhelming, and companies should take steps to attend to employees’ emotional well-being in addition to their productivity and physical health. The Holland & Knight article offers a few tips for creating a working environment that is supportive and transparent:
- Establish a robust internal-facing COVID-19 webpage.
- Develop a resource for employees to ask questions and get reliable answers.
- Create a safe avenue for employees to report concerns.
- Host regular web-based training sessions and opportunities to engage in workplace socializing to maintain a strong corporate culture.
These steps will enable companies to ride out the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and perhaps emerge even stronger on the other side.
‘Business as unusual’: How COVID-19 could change the future of work
UN News spoke to Susan Hayter, a Senior Technical Adviser on the Future of Work at the Geneva-based International Labour Organization, about how COVID-19 could change our working lives.
A few large companies have said employees need not commute to work again Susan Hayter, Senior Technical Adviser on the Future of Work, ILO
What are the longer-term effects of the pandemic on the workplace in developed countries, once the immediate crisis is over?
Before the pandemic, there was already a lot of discussion on the implications of technology for the future of work. The message was clear: the future of work is not pre-determined, it is up to us to shape it.
However, that future has arrived sooner than anticipated as many countries, companies and workers shifted to remote working in order to contain the transmission of COVID-19, dramatically changing how we work. Remote virtual meetings are now commonplace and economic activity has increased on a range of digital platforms.
As the restrictions are lifted, a question that is on everybody’s mind is whether this ‘business as unusual’ will become the ‘new normal’. A few large companies in developed economies have already said that what has been a large and unplanned pilot – remote teleworking – will become the standard way of organizing work. Employees need not commute to work again, unless they choose to do so.
Is this a good thing?
This may indeed be cause to celebrate, for people and the planet. But the idea of an end to “The Office” is certainly overblown. The ILO estimates that in high-income countries 27 per cent of workers could work remotely from home.
This does not mean that they will continue to work remotely.
The question is how we can adapt work practices and reap the benefits of this experience with remote working – for employers and workers – while not losing the social and economic value of work as a place.
In celebrating the innovations in work organization that have supported business continuity during the health crisis, we cannot forget that many will have lost their jobs or gone business as the pandemic has brought some industries to a standstill. For those returning to their place of work, the quality of work will be a key issue, in particular safe and healthy workplaces.
What needs to happen next?
The degree of workers’ trust in the measures taken by employers to make workplaces safe, will no doubt have an impact on the return to work. Engagement with trade union representatives, where these exist, is a must.
Everything from protocols for social distancing, monitoring and testing, and the availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) need to be discussed to make this work.
For workers in the gig economy, such as food delivery and ride-hailing workers, work is not a place, but an activity performed for an income.
The pandemic has revealed the false choice between flexibility and income security. These workers may have no or inadequate access to sick leave and unemployment-insurance benefits.
We need to tap into the brave new world to ensure that their work is performed under conditions that are safe.
How different do you expect the workplace in developing countries to look?
The ILO estimates a 60 per cent decline in the earnings of the almost 1.6 billion workers in the informal economy in the first month of the crisis.
These workers are simply not able to work remotely and face the impossible choice of risking life or livelihood.
Some countries have adopted measures to shore up this essential income while also ensuring adequate hygiene and PPE for employees and customers, informal enterprises and workers.
As companies begin to evaluate the effectiveness of the shift to remote work and their ability to tackle data security concerns, new opportunities may open up in services for developing countries with the necessary infrastructure.
However, these off-shoring opportunities in activities such as software development and engineering to financial services, may be accompanied by the reshoring in of other jobs as companies seek to improve inventory management and the predictability of supply chains.
This will have longer-term effects on employment in developing and emerging economies. The challenge is that while it will take time for new service sectors to mature, the negative impact of rising unemployment will be felt immediately. Inequalities in digital readiness may further inhibit countries from seizing these opportunities.
What are the benefits and drawbacks of remote work?
The shift to remote work has enabled many companies to continue to operate and ensure the health and safety of their employees. Those able to make the transition to remote work during the health crisis have had the opportunity to share meals with their families. Work has become human-centred to accommodate homeschooling and child and elder care.
Yet, the lines between working time and private time have become blurred for these individuals, causing an increase in stress and exposure to mental health risks.
In the face of a dramatic economic downturn caused by the pandemic and surging unemployment figures, there are opportunities to leverage these changes in work organization to design new job-sharing schemes that allow for flexibility and save jobs. This may mean shorter work weeks or work-sharing arrangements to avoid furloughs in lean times, while reshaping working time arrangements to achieve better work-life balance in the longer-term.
The digital transformation of work and possibility to engage in remote work has also been accompanied by other benefits.
It has presented possibilities for older, more experienced workers to prolong their working life on their terms and provided work opportunities for those in rural communities. However, for many others, it has compounded a sense of isolation and a loss of identity and purpose.
The social value of work and the dignity and belonging we derive from it cannot be replaced by virtual rooms, no matter how casual our attire while we occupy them.
To what extent will the pandemic entrench rising inequality?
While the pandemic may represent a tipping point for the digital transformation of the workplace, it has also revealed deep fault lines. It is those in the upper income brackets who are the most ly to choose to work remotely, whereas those in the lowest have no choice; they will have to commute and are more ly to be time-poor as a result.
Looking to the future, as digital and online work becomes the new normal, the demand for skilled workers is ly to rise along with their wages. The contributions of care-workers and other workers (e.g.
teachers and staff in grocery stores) will be more highly valued than before.
Yet, many low-paid workers whose wages have been stagnating in the face of declining union power and a shifting employment relationship are ly to see their incomes eroded even further as the ranks of the unemployed increase.
Historically, economic shocks, pandemics and wars have exacerbated inequality.
The remaining question is whether this one will be a tectonic shift with rising political and social instability, or a shock that leads us to reinforce the foundations of just societies and the principles of solidarity and democratic decision-making that move societies, labour markets and workplaces in the direction of equality.
How COVID-19 could change the way we look at offices and workspaces
With this shift towards greater integration of remote and agile working solutions comes greater questions about what can be done with office spaces that are now sitting empty.
As 2020 comes to a close and we begin 2021 it is important that we examine the lessons we have learnt during what has been, to put it mildly, an extraordinary tumultuous year.
But, while reflection on what has happened is important, it is also vital that we also look to the future.
What does the workplace of the future look ? What changes from the past 12 months do we want to grow and expand on?
For many the widespread disruption to our working norms has raised serious questions about the status quo. Despite the assertion by some that a return to ‘business as usual’ was important for our recovery, the virus and our response to it has demonstrated that alternative approaches can and will work when needed, and proven that progressive changes to the way we work can be made.
Already it appears that this shift in attitudes toward more flexible ways of working is not a temporary reaction to the pandemic emergency.
The move towards a more blended model, where workers and employers adopt a mixture of in-office and remote working supported by technology solutions, was already being embraced by some. Now many are predicting that this approach will be embraced on a wider scale once the pandemic crisis has passed.
A recent survey by the British Council for Offices (BCO) found that 70% of British workers do not expect or want to return to the traditional five-day, office-based working week.
This is matched by another recent survey from the Institute of Directors (IOD) that found that 74% of company directors are planning to integrate more remote and blended ways of working in the future.
With this comes the question: if we are going to use offices less and work remotely more, what happens to those places we used to work in? What do we do with the office spaces we leave behind?
As remote working become more commonplace buildings that are grossly underused – if not empty – for days at a time will become more widespread. Even before the COVID-19 crisis the cost of underutilised and empty office space in London alone was estimated to be £4 billion annually.
Office spaces around the country have been left empty for months as a result of the lockdowns caused by the virus, and with the changes and adaptations we have witnessed to the way that people work in response to the situation it is ly that these spaces are going to remain unused for the foreseeable future.
But does it have to be this way? Do these spaces have to remain underused? Empty offices are not just a waste of resources, they represent a missed opportunity to think differently and prepare for change that was emerging even before the pandemic.
Not only do oversized and underutilised buildings look and feel old-fashioned white elephants spread across our towns and cities, they represent a visible symbol that town and city planning norms are increasingly disconnected from what we want and need from the places where we work.
Even before the pandemic the message was becoming strikingly clear: size no longer means status, and a traditional approach to office planning and design offers limited attraction to younger generations.
Research has shown that those entering the workforce were simply unimpressed by traditional corporate offices, with 21% of 18-24-year-olds reported to have turned down job offers due to the potential employer’s outdated office design and a lack of amenities.
Those views were expanding across multi generations fed up with date management by presenteeism.
The events of the past year have dramatically highlighted the disconnection between our needs and expectations from the places we work and the reality of the office spaces we worked in.
So what is the solution?
Our changing attitudes towards the way we work are reflected in the ways we are now beginning to look at our workspaces. The concept of the office building as a status symbol is increasingly outdated, and for many of us, it is simply irrelevant whether the place that we work in is the biggest or casts a larger shadow than our sector competitors.
As working remotely becomes more accepted, we are looking for something different as a workplace. We are looking for somewhere that meets our needs for flexibility and choice.
We are looking for somewhere that suits us on a personal level and provides a more inspiring atmosphere for approaching our work creatively and collaboratively.
This kind of cultural shift changes our demands for how office buildings should be designed, and the way that they are operated needs to reflect this.
Why not share?
The immediate and obvious solution to managing unused office space isn’t dramatic or complicated.
Shutting down parts of a building on days when occupancy is predictably low and consolidating occupiers into a smaller footprint could reduce tangible running costs and have an unexpected cultural benefit by bringing together people who would never ordinarily interact.
All very practical, and many facilities managers will already be recommending this approach. But this fails to address the principal issue of what to actually do with growing amounts of empty or underutilised office spaces.
An alternative would be to share the use of the building.
As offices become more adaptable and agile, why not offer access to another organisation – one who would make good use of it – during your downtime? As spaces become more adaptable and businesses move away from the idea of individuals ‘owning’ a specific place in the office, the potential to share space with other organisations becomes more viable. The ‘plug and play’ nature of agile offices means that they can be used by anyone, and this can include those outside the organisation that actually owns or leases the property.
If wholesale sharing doesn’t appeal, then an organisation could realise its social responsibility in the way it offers the use of its space during low utilisation periods.
Many people and organisations need a place to work but do not require – or cannot afford – the traditional commitment to full-time, seven-day leases.
Having access to space on an ad-hoc basis might appeal to them while bringing long-term business benefits to the host organisation.
What about collocating?
With increased levels of distributed working, the established perception of the city centre head office is changing. In place of the assumption that the headquarters and centralised workplace are one and the same, a new leaner model is emerging. What we define as a ‘workplace’ is now anywhere we want to work, therefore what organisations regard as their HQ presence is changing.
The traditional idea of a head office – complete with prominent address and an organisation’s name written in big letters outside – is becoming increasingly outdated and no longer central to the requirements of the post-COVID working world.
In its place is a demand for new, fresher and more economically efficient solutions to support the increased integration of hybrid working.
Even mature organisations are realising the financial and cultural benefits of breaching the traditional boundaries of office space and joining in with a move towards shared workspace which were previously been regarded as only relevant to the start-up sector.
Indeed, by reducing the scale of ‘owned’ space and having access to shared facilities, collocating with -minded organisations seeking a more modern approach can enhance an organisation’s brand value. When offices and workplaces are able to re-open without the threat of further lockdowns or other preventative measures, collaborative work spaces will be a key focus.
The trend towards spaces where the free sharing of ideas is encouraged was growing before COVID-19, and the workplace of the future will need to respond to the acceleration of demand for these and other creative solutions.
This approach has further benefits. Fostering free interaction across organisational boundaries provides an environment where ideas that may not have been possible inside a traditional office building can be created.
A casual conversation in the communal café could solve a problem that someone has been stuck on all morning, or a passing greeting in a corridor might help form connections that could assist with future projects opportunities.
Taking this approach would create a dynamic culture that attracts people in from the home offices and could aid recruitment – something many businesses struggle to achieve.
The changing social attitude to the way we intend to work is not a blip or a temporary anomaly – it is here to stay. These changes need to be led by those who plan, develop, design and operate workplaces.
Developers, planning authorities and policymakers need to appreciate and embrace the scale and pace of change in what we now expect from where and when we work. Space no longer needs to sit empty when alternatives are available.
Businesses, in turn, need to adapt their approach to the way they view the ownership of building and space, moving towards a more open brand, facilitating a collaborative, interactive environment for multiple users and organisations.
*Please note: This is a commercial profile