Pre-pandemic, many American employees worked 5 days a week in offices from roughly 9am to 6pm. Many regularly sat in crowded meetings, occasionally “powered through” illnesses to make it into the office, frequently enjoyed complimentary lunch spreads, and constantly were in close contact with other people indoors.
Then, the pandemic upended the work-life balance of corporate America as we knew it.
As we approach a post-pandemic world, what will the new normal workplace look like and how will it accommodate people’s changed behaviors when it comes to how, when, and from where we work?
The “non-essentials,” or people who were able to work remotely during the pandemic, realized that the potential to work without going into the office is possible. For some, it is preferable.
According to Pew Research Center, more than half (54%) of people who can work remotely prefer to do so at least most of the time after the pandemic is over. These folks cite benefits like increased flexibility, healthier work-life balances, and reduced commute times.
But not everyone shares this preference. Others miss the office, including some people who have had to assume multiple roles during the pandemic, such as parent, teacher, and employee. These workers long for the office social culture, structured work day separate from home life, and in-person collaboration with their teams.
Still, others like the idea of a hybrid work schedule, which would enable a partial work-from-home, partial in-office work week. While a popular topic of conversation, the hybrid model also presents some problems with practical application.
What about employers? The pandemic forced C-Suiters to adapt how they run their businesses. Some have appreciated the benefits of a remote work model, while others condemn it as an impediment to company success.
Spotify supports remote work culture. The music streaming service company believes that globalization and digitalization enable a more flexible and productive workplace, and recently established a Work From Anywhere employee program that lets employees decide when they work in the office and when they work at home.
Similarly, Twitter has announced a permanent work-from-home option for employees who are able to do so.
Yet, other major companies such as Google, Facebook, and Uber have already begun making return-to-office plans. With to-be-determined adaptations for capacity and safety, these companies are readying their offices to welcome back in-person workers.
Some companies have been strongly outspoken against the adoption of permanent remote work structures. For example, David Solomon, CEO of Goldman Sachs, has referred to the remote-work model that his company adopted during the pandemic as, “an aberration that we are going to correct as quickly as possible.”
JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon has also voiced reservations about the work-from-home model, claiming it hinders the building of workplace culture and potential for on-site learning. Still, Dimon, among other top CEOs, recognizes the financial incentives behind remote work’s power to reduce the need for office real estate investments. Despite his praise of in-person work environments, Dimon has suggested plans to shrink JPMorgan office capacity by 40%.
Reopening society itself is, of course, contingent upon the successful mitigation of the novel coronavirus, which is still subject to ebbs and flows, despite vaccine optimism.
Regardless of how workplaces choose to re-open, they will undoubtedly face new challenges as their employees cope with transitioning to a post-pandemic world. For example, companies will need to evaluate their mental health support offerings for workers, as well as invest in new health and safety precautions for their offices.
New workplace standards around office capacity limitations and physical components like indoor airflow and seating layouts remain to be seen.
Powering through an illness used to be seen as a demented sign of commitment to the job. In a post-pandemic workplace, how will companies revise their policies to ensure that contagious employees don’t come into the office and infect others?
As American society continues its path toward fully reopening, employers will need to confront new questions surrounding workplace norms, and evaluate whether their company models have become outdated in this new normal.
Janet M Early is a freelance journalist who writes about business, self-improvement, health, & climate. Read more.
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