Will COVID-19 Change the Workplace Forever?

Practically overnight, millions of Americans found themselves working from home for the first time in their careers. For others, it means dramatic changes in how their companies conduct business in the face of statewide or nationwide stay-at-home orders.

The way business is conducted in 2020 is very different from the way it was done in 1980s. In many industries, the software and policies that were established at the beginning of the digital revolution have endured, creating a type of stagnation that prevents many of the oldest and largest corporations in America from adjusting to the current digital climate.

COVID-19 brought with it a wave of challenges that corporations and small businesses alike had to meet in a matter of days, not years. This meant immediate changes to how they operated, provided services to their customers, and positioned themselves to pivot as additional changes occur.

Remote Work

We’re in a particularly interesting situation with COVID-19 forcing businesses to shutter their offices and allow workers that otherwise might be at the office to work from the comfort of their own homes. In many cases, these companies were tasked with dramatically changing their support infrastructure overnight to facilitate continued productivity in the wake of COVID-19.

While some of us are accustomed to the home office world, many are left wondering if COVID-19 will leave a lasting impression on how their employers do business.

The benefits of remote work to workers and employers are difficult to ignore in any economy. Companies spend less on their facility overhead. Workers achieve a better work-life balance by eliminating countless hours of driving time from their daily routines.

For many employers, the primary benefit of remote employees is an overall drop in unscheduled absence. For example, some data sets the reduction in absenteeism resulting from remote work allowance by 63%.

It’s hard to imagine after having done a complete, real-world test of remote work as a result of COVID-19, many of the most stubborn corporations will see and respond positively to the results of this necessary experiment.

Perhaps this means an option to occasionally work from home when the need arises, or that a percentage of their workforce will be hired as full-time remote workers whenever possible. It’s anyone’s guess, but I believe there will be a lasting shift in how companies write their work-from-home policies.

Workplace Space

In some workplaces, the physical space between workers is tight. I’ve worked in an office designed for 4-6 occupants that housed 10. Just walking from one end of the room to the other was a chore as you avoided knocking into coworkers and desks.

This is a reality for employees throughout the world and one that may well change as companies become more aware of how easily viruses can spread between individuals when they are in close proximity of one another.

Health and Wellness Policies

Have you ever had an employer pressure you to come to work, even though you feel sick? For many employers, unscheduled absences are a definite hit to the pocketbook, but they may well save you from a much bigger problem if a cold or flu virus forces even more workers to take leave.

For startups and other small or medium-sized businesses, COVID-19 is a major incentive to create an official employee wellness policy that managers must adhere to.

Planning

In 2018, the Federal Reserve released a report indicating that between 12 and 39% of U.S. adults would be unable to cover an emergency expense of $400. This is a startling statistic, and one that has been expanded upon and repeated often by politicians and pundits alike virtually every time the economy comes up.

When it comes to businesses, this statistic may well be even scarier. How many companies are a month’s income away from shutting down? COVID-19 has turned this theoretical question into a reality, and it’s playing out right now around the world.

For many privately-owned companies, the ability to make payroll is a constant concern. Unless the business can pivot quickly (such as a restaurant switching from dine-in to delivery) it may well be in danger of failing to meet its financial obligations.

For companies, holding on to good workers is key to running a successful business. By planning for sudden disruptions in normal business, and finding ways to keep staff active and on the payroll, the lasting impact of situations like these can be greatly reduced.

Summary

COVID-19 is a horrible virus that has upended the world in a very short time. In addition to the cost of life, its impact on the global economy is sure to be felt for decades to come.

The workplace changed virtually overnight to protect the people of the world from unnecessary exposure to the virus. These changes are largely temporary, however, it has forced companies to introduce a variety of new programs and solutions to their workforce.

Whether or not these changes will stick after COVID-19 has passed remains to be seen. I, for one, hope that some do.

It’s just a terrible shame that it took something of this magnitude to encourage it.

Photo by Jacky Chiu on Unsplash.

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