Although 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, says Lisa Fulford-Roy, SVP and head of CBRE’s Canadian Workplace Strategy Practice in Toronto.
“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,” she says.
A month working from home with a less than ideal office setup, such as an inadequate chair or desk, coupled with household noise and distractions, can lead to physical discomfort and injuries that could take time to reverse, she says. “This needs to be top of mind for organizations now and post-COVID-19,” says 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-from-home has also reinforced the importance of work-life balance, which has been complicated as families shelter in place, she says. “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. 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.”
When it comes time to return to the workplace, the COVID-19 experience will have lasting impacts, says Fulford-Roy. 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, she says.
Though it’s too early to predict exactly how organizations will change in the wake of COVID-19, she says “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,” says Fulford-Roy. “That trajectory will become intensified and accelerate how we value and support talent post-COVID-19.”
Expectations of personal space and increased hygiene have changed, possibly forever, she says. 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,” says 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, unassigned seating could be managed in a rotational manner, allowing for deep cleaning and 24-hour periods between use, she says.
“How back to work is managed will be critical for employee health and well-being and confidence in their employer,” says Fulford-Roy. “Clear communication of any changes in behaviour or policy is going to be vital to ensuring a seamless back to work experience.”