A Guide to Returning to Work in the New Normal [What to Expect]
Precisely what we should expect when we return to work and and return to our workspaces remains uncertain. Some were confident that it would be safe to return to offices and shared workplaces sometime this summer. But as states began the process of opening their businesses, the pandemic did not relent. In fact, based on the latest trends this month, it has increased in intensity. Many states, as a result, are reversing their earlier easement and are reeling back as infection and death rates spiral upwards again.
What has become patently obvious is that the journey will be full of bumps and nonlinear. Businesses must quickly adapt to changes and carefully balance health, safety, and financial factors. Some offices may reopen without incident. Others may encounter infections and temporary shutdowns. In some cases, shared office space providers and businesses with offices may elect to adopt a hybrid model, where the number of businesses and workers in the space will be reduced—with workers only working select or assigned days from an office location and from their home offices on other days.
New Work Normal: Work from Home and Hybrid Workplaces
Due to upwards of half the workforce suddenly working from home for numerous consecutive months (essentially from 2.5% before the pandemic), work and workspace likely will not ever be the same—even after the pandemic is over. The “glass ceiling” of work from home has been broken: Businesses and managers that felt worker productivity and collaboration would decrease have discovered the exact opposite in most cases. Various studies reveal worker productivity has increased for those who suddenly find themselves working from home during the pandemic. One study concludes that worker productivity increased as much as 47% for workers who previously worked in a physical workspace.
While trends were already moving in the direction of more remote workers, as well as small businesses and entrepreneurs operating without permanent office space, the past four or five months have laid a foundation for broader and faster adoption. Many entrepreneurs and small businesses like the idea of unshackling themselves from permanent office space and using a combination of shared workspace and home offices.
At the same time, now that workers have gotten a taste of work from home, it will be difficult for businesses to get them back into physical offices on a near-permanent basis (a recent research study shows that 37% of jobs in the U.S. can be done remotely). It turns out that they like lower carbon omissions, reduced traffic congestion, and greater work-life balance. As a result, businesses that relied exclusive on permanent office space and assigned workspaces for their workers will reevaluate their positions and move to hybrid approaches—saving themselves millions of dollars in real estate costs and lower worker salaries.
A Guide to Returning to Work
So, in addition to the above, what should businesses and workers expect when returning to work in the new normal?
Adoption of Digital Technology
It is impossible to overstate the importance technology played in facilitating the near-immediate transition to 100% work from home. Cloud-based web conferencing services generated a lot of headlines—both in terms of the rapid adoption by both businesses and individuals and its challenges when it came to scalability and security. High fidelity microphones and headsets virtually sold out, and sales of ergonomic desks and chairs skyrocketed. We also saw a rapid growth in the use of proprietary applications and cloud-based applications and services.
Improved Worker Productivity
One outcome of this digital frenzy is a workforce with a higher technology acumen. As they become more adept in their use of technology, their productivity increases at the same time. There are some cloud-based applications and services workers did not use while working in a permanent workplace. But in order to work productivity and collaborate with other employees, third-party suppliers, and customers, these workers had to learn how to use new tools—used for everything from project management to communications. As they return to the new normal and permanent and shared workspaces, these workers will be more productive in their roles.
Maturation in Cybersecurity Practices
Another outcome is a greater awareness of cybersecurity—from the use of security technologies to a culture of security. Individual workers are more cognizant of cybersecurity issues than ever before. Recognizing that worker home offices reside outside of the corporate network, businesses implemented additional security technologies and cybersecurity awareness training programs to ensure their workers devices and information is protected. Security gaps in cloud applications and services were exposed, and cloud providers have taken steps to harden their environments to protect them from cyberattacks. While businesses still have much work to do when it comes to cybersecurity, COVID-19 is prompting them to implement more effective technologies and processes to protect their applications and data better.
Use of Shared Workspace and Rented Meeting Rooms
As businesses and workers forego permanent workspaces and the 9-to-5 workday, this will drive further growth in the shared workspace and rented conference room market. More entrepreneurs and businesses will turn to providers such as Davinci Meeting Rooms for support. The ability to quickly and easily locate and book cost-effective coworking space, day offices, and rented meeting rooms will be important. Of course, logistics of using shared workspace and rented meeting rooms will be different than before COVID-19—screens separating workspaces, regular cleaning, and other protocols will be the norm.
Heightened Digital Customer Engagement
How businesses engagement with their customers was already undergoing dramatic disruption before the pandemic. But changes that may have taken several years to take place before COVID-19 suddenly occurred overnight. Businesses without a digital footprint found themselves in a sea of water without an oar. They either quickly implemented a digital strategy and road map—including some initial band-aid approaches—or found themselves without any ability to communicate and market to their customers. Virtually every aspect of business engagement changed overnight.
Digital engagement means different things for different businesses. A focused social media brand presence is critical for most. But this is just the starting point. Businesses need to proactively engage with customers when they are on their website—for both service and sales. And while many entrepreneurs and small businesses likely have full plates and lack the resources to hire staff to take on digital engagement activities such as live web chat, email, and text, there are affordable, on-demand options. For example, Davinci Virtual has been providing live web chat and live receptionist services for years; customers pay for engagement allotments they need each month, which is significantly less costly than hiring a professional to staff these activities.
Work in the New Normal Will Be More than Social Distancing and Sanitation
Some businesses, such as retailers, service providers, and manufacturers where work must be performed onsite or face-to-face customer interaction is required, have been managing the day-to-day risks of the COVID-19 economy for four months now. For other businesses where work can be performed remotely, they continue to evaluate infection rates. Some businesses have tentative plans to reopen their offices in rolling shifts that promote social distancing and minimize interactions. Others are waiting until a vaccine is found or the pandemic subsides.
In the case of those businesses that do return to their offices or shared workplaces, factors for consideration extend beyond just social distancing and sanitation of workspaces. The digital disruption caused by COVID-19 has permanently changed how businesses and their employees want to work. Understanding these dynamics will be critical for businesses wishing to thrive in the new work normal.