Pandemic Changes Work – And the Changes May Be Here to Stay

When the pandemic began, most businesses complained about the disruption. How could they be expected to operate outside of the office? Somehow, they found a way, courtesy of technology. And surprise, surprise, productivity flourished in many cases.

57% of knowledge workers say their COVID-19 experience demonstrates they can perform most functions from home, according to a study by Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG). 38% of knowledge workers believe productivity increased. They are keen to continue the practice going forward, whether full time or in a partial office/work-from-home arrangement.

“Among workers 45 and under, 70% of those that are extremely concerned about COVID-19 health risks want to work from home more frequently,” said John McKnight, Executive Vice President of Research and Analyst Services at ESG. “Whether driven by an increased level of comfort with remote work tools and processes, an increased level of concern over health risks, or a combination of both, younger workers may in fact be those most reluctant to return to a traditional office environment.”

Quality of life is a major factor. Instead of two hours in a car each day swearing at drivers, pedestrians, accidents and traffic lights, they ease into the chair in pajamas to begin the workday, coffee in hand. They can sleep more, spend more time with family, and find time for the gym.

Businesses that are concerned about employees playing truant can deploy workforce monitoring software to discover who logged in and logged out, when and for how long. They can take this too far, of course, attempting to micromanage keystrokes per hour and other metrics. But HR and managers have found it easier than expected to maintain productivity.

Office space shrinks

Covid-19 accelerated a gradual trend. Younger workers and those in the gig economy were already part of the home-office brigade. But those who would never have dreamed of working from home have now done so for months – and lived to tell the tale. Many, not all, liked it.

Companies benefited, too. Some have already closed their prestigious city-center, high-rise operations. Why fork out those hefty rents? CFOs enjoyed a big drop in monthly expenses. Many workers seemed content to work from home. The trade-off appealed to both sides: no commute for employees who pay for their own heat, cooling, electricity, phone, and Internet during office hours. Few complained. Many thrived.

Looking ahead, prices are dropping for downtown office space in places like New York and San Francisco. Office capacity may never fully recover. Businesses are likely to consolidate operations into smaller offices reserved for top management. Shared spaces and conferences rooms will be available for workers. Some will come in once or twice a week, some monthly, some occasionally, and many not at all.

Those central offices remaining will be reconfigured. As well as fewer personnel, management is reassessing long-established criteria for office layouts, conferencing, group activity space, staff kitchens and lobbies, according to KAI Design.

“Concentrations of people will be diluted, driving a change in culture-building for companies,” said KAI Managing Partner Brad Simmons.

This means limited touchpoints, visitor restrictions, meeting room redesigns and in general, more space between employees. Endless rows of tiny employee cubicles are going away. Those remaining stand a better chance of getting their own offices.

Tech winners

The home-office shift represents a boon for office productivity suites, video conferencing, chat, workforce management and other apps that streamline the work-from-home process. Zoom, Microsoft Teams and GoToMeeting won big during these recent months. Other vendors are adjusting workforce optimization packages intended mainly for call centers and help desks. This is a good time to be in business for anyone who facilitates working from home or has applications addressing remote monitoring, remote security, and remote interaction.

Many CIOs are scrambling to adopt these technologies. They see the writing on the wall. The large, central office model is losing ground. They need to be reallocating a portion of their budgets to home offices. That may even include paying for more bandwidth for employees.

ESG research found that 40% of knowledge workers complained about poorer Internet connections at home. Perhaps employees will benefit not only from the elimination of commutes. It could be that companies supplement home office productivity via better connectivity and applications, and higher-powered laptops.

But this may not be good news for kids used to hijacking parental computers to play video games. Those shiny, higher-end laptops that could be appearing soon in homes will probably restrict access to sites like Fortnite and Call of Duty – thanks to remote security vendors.

Drew Robb
Drew Robb
Drew Robb has been writing about IT and engineering for more than 25 years. Originally from Scotland, he now lives in Florida.

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