Blog | Permanent Workplace Changes From the COVID Pandemic
The COVID pandemic changed everything. But how many of those changes will be permanent? COVID made working from home and increasing sanitation standards a necessity for public safety. In the process, workers and employers learned many jobs are doable from home at least part of the time. Now that vaccines are widespread, organizations are rethinking their working arrangements and searching for a sustainable solution.
In the months and years to come, workplace changes from the pandemic will continue to affect American workers and employers. While not every COVID-related change will stick, some things might never be the same. Learn about temporary and permanent workforce changes from COVID.
Workplace Changes From COVID That Are Not Here to Stay
Not all COVID-related changes will remain forever. Some health and safety measures will no longer be necessary after most people get vaccinated. Though the new normal will never be quite the same as it was, some COVID workplace changes will reverse in the aftermath.
Completely Remote Work
COVID necessitated completely remote work for anyone who could do their job at home. To limit viral spread, employees went home and stayed there. Most workplaces that relied on completely remote work during COVID will likely require some level of in-person work post-pandemic. The norm of working from home full-time will most likely not remain for most employees after COVID. The complete lack of face-to-face engagement will meet its end.
Temperature Checking and Required Gear
As workplaces began to open back up after initial lockdowns, employers had to enact new safety measures. Since a fever is one of the more reliable signs of COVID, it became common practice to check employees’ temperatures before they could enter the building. Employers would send workers home if their temperature indicated a fever.
A fever can signify a wide range of medical issues, some of which are contagious. Employers may continue to encourage workers to stay home if their thermometers read too high, but the practice of screening employees before they enter a workplace will likely subside with the end of COVID.
Other safety measures included supplying employees with personal protective equipment, including gloves, masks, plastic guards and disinfectant spray. Some employers might continue to keep this equipment handy. But it will likely no longer be a requirement for everyone to wear gloves and masks or use other personal protective gear.
COVID-Based Workplace Changes That Are Here to Stay
The post-COVID world will not be quite the same as the pre-COVID world — that’s for sure. COVID made employers realize their potential for flexibility. It also forced employers and employees alike to rethink their priorities and reimagine working life. One of the most significant lasting changes will be the popularity and frequency of working from home.
The workplace will function differently in other ways, as well. COVID caused public health to become priority No. 1. The culture of “show up no matter what” might change forever. Workers will feel the effects of COVID for years to come, in many different ways. Here are some possible permanent office changes from the pandemic.
Is Remote Work Here to Stay?
The future of remote work post-COVID is challenging to predict. Employers who used to require full in-person work, with no work-from-home flexibility, will need to make changes to remain competitive in the post-COVID world. COVID forced employers to invest in remote connection technology and smooth out the kinks in long-distance collaboration. Now that so many employers have the infrastructure for a full or partial work-from-home dynamic, employees will have more leverage than they used to for designing their work routines. It all leads to the question — will working from home be permanent?
Remote Work Trends 2021
Shortly after the pandemic reached the U.S., about 42% of America’s labor force was working from home. Another 33% were not working at all, and only 26% were working on location. Employers who were skeptical about how work-from-home would affect productivity were pleasantly surprised. As of August 2020, a few months into the new work-from-home norm, 94% of employers said productivity was the same or higher than it was before COVID.
Having so many people working from home every day put many concerns about remote work to rest. Those who had little interest in remote work had to give it a try regardless, and found it was not so bad after all. However, that does not necessarily mean working from home is here to stay.
Some employers may begin offering full-time work-from-home positions for specific jobs. However, a more workable, sustainable solution will most likely be a hybrid structure. While many desk jobs are doable from home, some aspects are challenging to replace with the occasional video call. Employers will likely require in-person work for the following reasons.
An initial training period: Training from a remote location can be challenging. Future positions might include an in-person training period, giving new employees the chance to observe, ask questions and develop new skills.
Occasional collaboration: Remote structure is best for individual work. Teamwork, especially large-group collaboration, becomes an issue when employees are in separate locations. Employers may require teams to meet in person from time to time.
Performance reviews: End-of-year reviews and other employee milestones might require a meeting in person for professionalism.
Team-building activities: Employees who work as part of a larger team may struggle to work together if they never meet in person. Some employers might organize in-person team-building or get-to-know-you events.
Though some in-person work will resume, employees will enjoy better flexibility in how, where and when they work. When working from home, employees need not conform to the standard working office hours. Instead, they can take breaks when needed and work hours that suit them best.
For the 54% of Americans who said they’d want to continue working from home after COVID, the widespread popularity of a hybrid structure will be a blessing. However, not every job is doable from home, and not every home is well-suited for remote work.
1. Wealth Disparity
Jobs in health care, retail, food service and transportation must happen in person. Most desk jobs require higher education, and most people with higher education fall into mid- to high socioeconomic classes. Only 44% of upper-income workers said they could not fulfill their job responsibilities from home, in contrast to 76% of lower-income workers. The future of teleworking might result in a more profound disparity between the “haves” and “have-nots.” Unpaid commuting time may become a grievance unique to lower-income workers.
In the same vein, working from home is not an ideal situation for all employees. Those who live in small apartments may struggle to find quiet space to focus. Telecommuting will become a challenge for those who have poor or unreliable internet access. In the months and years to come, questions will arise about what costs employers should be responsible for with a full or partial workforce at home.
2. Location-Based Pay
Another issue will be determining how to pay employees. With remote working schedules, employees have more freedom to live where they choose. However, the cost of living varies from place to place. Should employees at the same company receive the same pay, no matter where they live? Or should employers base pay on an employee’s local cost of living? New questions like these will continue to arise in the coming years.
Other Permanent Effects of COVID on the Workplace
Aside from remote working, additional permanent workplace changes from COVID are likely. In a lot of ways, employer and employee priorities have shifted since COVID spread across the globe. Now is the time to rethink and restructure the classic American office space.
More Social Workplace and Separate Workspaces
Many employers have been rethinking the way they design and use office space. While the vast majority of employers are not ready to forgo the office altogether, they are reimagining how they can use it. Since much more individual work will happen at home, offices may become centers for workplace community — places to collaborate with colleagues.
After COVID, physical workplaces may become less about individual work and more about collaboration, with employees doing independent tasks at home and using the office as a meeting place. Employers might focus on filling office spaces with furniture built for working together, such as multipurpose conference tables. A partial work-from-home structure would limit the number of personal desks needed.
On the other hand, COVID demonstrated how social distancing and physical barriers can keep workers safe and healthy, which decreases the lost productivity of employees needing sick days. Where individual workspaces are necessary, employers will likely invest in high-walled cubicles to make the flu season less of a burden.
Less Working While Sick
Ideally, American society will learn to let workers stay home when they’re not feeling well. The devastation of a widespread infectious virus will likely have a lasting effect on the culture of working while sick. With the infrastructure for employees to work from home established during COVID, there’s no longer any reason for employees to come into the office while they’re under the weather.
Changed expectations for working while sick is a positive effect of COVID. In the future, flu season may be much less of a burden on workers’ health than it has been in years past. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported only 1,316 positive flu cases between September 2020 and January 2021 — during the same period of the previous year, they recorded almost 130,000. Working from home, wearing masks, washing hands and other precautions kept the flu under wraps. Employers may also begin offering unlimited sick leave as a result of COVID.
Higher Sanitation Standards
COVID showed employers a new model of what they could do to prevent the spread of illness in the office. Some of these changes may become a lasting part of workplace culture. Personal protective equipment, including gloves, masks, disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer, could become permanent staples in the American office. In the years to come, employers may even begin requiring workers to wear masks and maintain social distance during the most vulnerable seasons.
Reduced Workplace Gender Inequality
An unexpected side effect of the post-COVID world may be a slight reduction in workplace gender inequality. The vast majority of upper-level corporate positions belong to men. Part of the reason for this is the way societal expectations for men and women differ. Women are much more likely than men to prioritize their families and children, penalizing their professional careers.
Increased workplace flexibility due to COVID may open new doors for women who have previously had to choose between their jobs and their families. Working from home may offer women the chance to find a better balance for work and family life. It also encourages more participation from fathers, helping level the playing field for women.
Improved Conditions for Essential Workers
The pandemic highlighted how modern civilization exploits many lower-income workers. Workers with essential jobs, such as gas station and grocery store employees, had to keep working through the pandemic. These people kept society functioning, yet faced exposure to hazardous conditions interacting with the public during COVID.
One of the permanent changes from COVID may be improved conditions for these employees, including better pay and access to adequate health benefits. Lower-income workers have a new voice in a post-COVID world.
More Efficient and Satisfied Workers
COVID challenged the status quo, especially in the American workplace. It gave everyone the chance to ask questions and rethink the way things had been. Though COVID caused devastation across the globe, some of its lasting effects on the workplace might be more positive than negative.
While productivity has not changed with the increase in remote work, other factors have. Employees who have some remote work capability report better flexibility and balance. Most are as satisfied with their jobs as they were before COVID, if not more so. Reinventing the American workplace could cause long-term positive changes for millions of workers.
Contact Arnold’s Office Furniture for Innovative Solutions
As the COVID pandemic enters a new phase, crucial questions are arising. The pandemic shook the American workplace to its core, and it will never be quite the same again. Though some aspects of life will revert to how they were before, other workplace changes caused by COVID will remain intact for years to come. Employers are looking for ways to devise sustainable, long-term solutions for creating a happier, more productive and healthier workplace for their employees.
It’s time to get back to the drawing board and rebuild the workplace from the ground up. As you reimagine the workplace, you might find your current layout or furniture no longer serves your needs. At Arnold’s Office Furniture, we can help you create a functional post-COVID office space, no matter what your goals are.
You can use our high-walled cubicles or floor-to-ceiling office dividers to create a safer workplace. We’ll help you redesign your office for safety and functionality. We also offer a special Microban treatment to prevent the growth of bacteria, fungi and mold as an added health measure. If you’re ready to bring your reimagined office to life, contact us at Arnold’s Office Furniture today.
Alissa has over 25 years of experience in the office furniture industry. For many of those years, Alissa was a Senior Interior Designer. She then took her love of design and working with customers to the sales realm and has been dedicating her knowledge there ever since. Learn more about Alissa!