When most businesses closed their offices back in March and sent those employees who could work-from-home to do so, we had no idea how long it would last. But 8 months later as the impact of COVID-19 rages on, there are questions about how, when (and if) to get employees back to the office.
Thankfully for our economic survival, Global Workplace Analytics estimates that in 2020, 75 million U.S. employees (56% of the non-self-employed workforce) can work-from-home. In other words, that’s how many hold jobs are compatible with remote work. As Kate Lister, President of Global Workplace Analytics says, “work-at-home will save U.S. employers over $30 Billion a day in what would have otherwise been lost productivity during office closures due to COVID-19.”
When I first heard that Google has delayed bringing all of their employees back into the office until July 2021, my initial concern was for the small businesses that rely on those workers for their livelihood. From the small restaurant owners to dry cleaners to convenience stores and everything in between, the decision to have folks work-from-home has a ripple effect on business that can be devastating to their survival.
For employees who normally work in a traditional office setting, the future of the workplace is as uncertain as ever. Along with Google, several of the biggest American companies are not going back until deep into 2021 and many are exploring work-from-home as a permanent option. Here at Burrelles, all our employees who do not have to be physically present to conduct business are encouraged to work remotely and continue to conduct business via conferencing.
Work-from-home is not without its obstacles. Just think of the challenges we have all faced since the beginning of the pandemic in relation to getting our work done. For me, I’ve had to learn how to juggle work, make sure my 2nd and 4th graders are doing their e-learning and try to keep my two dogs from barking while on video calls.
Thankfully, technology has adapted and made things like communicating via conference call easier. It’s impressive how dramatically things have improved in making calls now versus in March. And after months of working at home, I have used Zoom and Webex as both meeting platforms and as verbs. My kids are catching on too; “dad, can we Zoom grandma”?
A new normal for those returning to the office
Most experts agree that the size and density of work environments are going to change which will impact workers returning to the office. Some companies plan to increase the amount of space they have in order to spread people out, while still others have adjusted to larger numbers of work-from-home employees and are reducing the office space they have. Many companies also plan to implement rotating schedules to reduce the number of people in a given space on a given day.
In most cases, the work environments people return to will be dramatically different from what they remembered and will most likely include physical changes to facilitate social distancing via plastic barriers, rearranged spaces and more.
The future of work-from-home
Further down the road to recovery, we may well fall back into more of our old work habits and environments, although they’ll probably never be the same as they were. For the next six months, especially as we enter into the more uncertain winter season, it seems likely that the future of work is going to be pretty similar to what we’ve been experiencing. In that, it will be more slanted toward a work-at-home world.
Asked about whether they would like to go back to their pre-COVID-19 work arrangement, 43% of respondents in a getAbstract survey said they would like to work remotely more of the time going forward, citing the absence of a commute, added flexibility and productivity gains as the main motivations behind that wish. Thirty-five percent indicated that they would like to go back to their former schedule. From the same survey, I found these two graphs interesting; the first regarding safety about going back to work and the second one about the downsides of working from home after COVID-19.
As with so many aspects of this pandemic and its impact on our country, things can change quickly. Nobody knows for sure what the future holds for the office environment and work-from-home. Per a Global Workplace Analytics forecast, “our best estimate is that 25-30% of the workforce will be working-from-home multiple days a week by the end of 2021.”
Beyond 2021, companies will weigh multiple factors about employees working-from-home versus in the office. Those include employee happiness/retention, productivity and overhead cost savings, among many others. Some businesses benefit from the collaboration of in-person meetings and gatherings, and others are more flexible and open to work-from-home.
What are your pros and cons with work-from-home? Do you have a funny work-from-home story about your kids, pets or technology issues? We’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment below.
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