For a little over a year, Covid-19 has dramatically changed the idea of a traditional workplace. In March 2020, many companies were forced to close their doors and send employees home with just a laptop and a prayer that everything would get back to normal soon.
Since the last 9-to-5 work routine, most people have adopted different lifestyle patterns – more comfortable and home-based. We have improved our home offices, upgraded to a faster Internet connection, and completely shifted the concept of work-life balance to adapt to the new Work-From-Home environment. Although WFH has given workers more time to spend with the family or to catch up on some chores, it has also broken the boundary between personal and professional life.
For many people, working remotely is now the new normal, but for many others, life did not change at all. For instance, frontline workers, retail, and the transport sector did not have to liberty to choose whether to be home or going to their work location. For jobs requiring assisting others, using specialized machinery, or making deliveries, workers had no choice but to be tight to their workplace. Despite the convenience and flexibility arising from working from home, mixing work-life with family-life has its disadvantages:
- Difficulty of Communication
When working remotely, communicating with colleagues and managers is much different. From instant messaging apps, video call software, and project management tools the communication stream is overwhelming. When colleagues are all in the same space, as in the office, communication is easier. But when they are all scattered, even asking a simple question becomes a challenge.
- Low-Performance Monitoring
Monitoring workers’ performance while working remotely is not an easy job for managers. Without the physical presence in the office, employees do not have many chances to report a problem, ask for feedback, or having their projects evaluated. To minimize this issue, managers can set goals and targets based on each worker’s role, personality, and availability to communicate while at home. If targets are not met, employers can identify any performance issues at an early stage.
- Loss of Productivity
Having your workstation in the living room opens the door to many distractions such as mid-day naps, Netflix, videogames, shopping sale alerts, and many more. If you have children, distractions and loss of concentration reach a whole new level. For this reason, managers are undoubtedly worried about their employees’ work productivity while they are out of the office. Sa consequence, a task that usually requires 10 minutes to complete, may take two hours if distractions occur.
- Sticking to a Routine
Starting the day with a cup of coffee and a ride to work is now a long-gone habit. When working from home, no day will be the same, as you try to combine household duties with online meetings and answering emails while cooking lunch. Mirroring your work habits while being outside of the office is almost an impossible challenge and a source of stress and discomfort.
- Potential Mental Burnout
Being in an office helps you distinguish between work and home life. With WFH, the boundaries of work-life and home-life do intersect. Knowing when to take a break from work tasks can help minimize stress. Working with no interruption will often lead to much longer work hours. Since tiredness will decrease the employee’s focus, burnout will occur. To minimize the risk of mental exhaustion, employees should be encouraged to take regular breaks and take some time when needed.
Even though remote work has become part of our lockdown lifestyle, it was not meant to last forever. As vaccines are gradually distributed to citizens, many companies have started reconsidering a return to the office after more than a year. However, this shift will not be as smooth as it sounds. Many employees whose work can be performed with a computer and an Internet connection, have no intention to give up on the flexibility of WFH. Many would keep working from home even after the pandemic.
In a recent book named Post Corona: From Crisis to Opportunity, NYU University Professor Scott Galloway discussed the possibility of returning to work claiming: “Nothing can happen for decades and then decades can happen in weeks”. He described the radical transformation brought about by COVID-19 on the working sector, forcing companies to adapt old mindsets to new lifestyle changes. Returning to work the old-fashioned way may take some time, and employers will have to do their part to ensure offices and buildings are safe for people to gather at their desks all over again.
Companies will now be expected to be more apprehensive, helping workers cope with the pandemic’s unprecedented disruption, both mental and personal. One way to meet employees’ needs would be to allow them to work on a hybrid schedule, half of the week at the office and half of it at home. By finding a middle ground between the company’s needs and the workers, managers will also demonstrate leadership while supporting employee welfare. These flexible work arrangements, once an unthinkable option for many corporations and conservative bosses, have already become normalcy, and may soon be a standard working option for future employees. In addition, if an employee demonstrates they can deliver their work while being online from home, managers will not lose track of their workers’ performance, which is one of the major downturns of being away from the office environment.
According to the magazine Fortune, 3 in 10 workers would rather not return to the office, while 4 in 10 do not mind going back to an older lifestyle. Companies should expect to tailor new policies based on their staff’s work preference. What is certain is that work environments will no longer involve fully packed offices. Therefore, figuring out how ready we are to return to pre-pandemic work-life will highly depend on how employers will tackle employees’ different concerns.
In 2021, the Return to Workplace Report, published by Envoy, examined workers’ attitudes towards returning to work regularly. According to the report, employees are concerned that returning to the office will increase the exposure to health risks. It also shows that 62% of people support the idea of a mandatory vaccine before showing up at the office again. Lastly, nearly half of the workers examined prefer a hybrid system of both in-person and remote work. Workplaces need to adopt strategies to properly manage employees who show signs and symptoms even after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. Common side effects that may occur post-vaccination include pain, swelling in the arm, fever, chills, tiredness, and headache. These symptoms can range from mild to moderate, thus impacting the employee’s work performance in the days following their shot.
As vaccinations continue to roll up, there is a new challenge on the horizon: distinguishing between post-vaccination signs from symptoms of COVID-19 or other infectious diseases. The first 1-3 days after vaccination are still an uncertain time, as some symptoms may be mistakenly considered infectious. This increases the chances that employees would rather stay at home or be absent from work altogether. Managers and employers must develop strategies to manage any post-vaccination consequences that may occur on their employees, to limit unnecessary work restrictions. Furthermore, they should ensure workspaces are disinfected and workstations are well distanced from each other according to health and safety standards.
In the United States, some office workers are already going back to their workstations, loathing the rush-hour commute, and adapting to the impractical habit of wearing a mask all day while at the office. It is still unknown how many days they will be required to be at their desks, as every company outline specific policies and safety regulations. At the same time, the extent to which American office workers continue working from home will also affect their satisfaction with the work itself. In the Summer of 2021, most offices will gradually re-open, expecting more workers to be present by the end of the year.
The category of employees who may still maintain a work-from-home lifestyle or for how long will depend on factors such as their role, and industry. For instance, high-skilled workers such as physicians, accountants, architects, and engineers will have the most work flexibility. These workers will be more likely to be allowed to work from home under the hybrid work model since their jobs mainly require the use of a computer and Internet connection.
When it comes to going back to work, there is uncertainty around the idea of returning to old office routines, even now that Covid-19 cases are slowly subsiding and vaccinations rising. As more employers begin the reopening phase, it is not known to what extent work-from-home will stick around. What is certain is that returning to the office after this pandemic will be unpredictable and chaotic. Many employees may experience some re-entry anxiety or disappointment for giving up on their flexibility and family time. There may also be fear to return to in-person interactions, which is unavoidable in an office environment.
It is unclear whether companies will require employees to be vaccinated before stepping into the building. Nevertheless, it is important to keep being alert and use all available tools to control the pandemic effects in the workplace and minimize any risk. It is also important that workers are mentally prepared to face a return to normalcy. For instance, it is hard to imagine taking a subway with strangers packed up in small train cars. If a company invites employees back to the office for a few days may ask your employer to set up a weekly schedule that includes no more than two days in the office per week. To overcome public transportation anxiety, you may start taking the subway for a few stops over the weekend before your weekly commute. This may help with handling Monday morning’s crowded trains or even feel less unsafe while being underground.
Although this pandemic has been a collective experience, every individual will respond differently to the demands of a post-pandemic life. Mixed reactions and fears are normal, especially about things that have not been done in a long time. Therefore, it is important to obtain every possible information about what the company is doing to welcome employees back, and what precautions are being taken to help keep the workers safe. At the same time, it is very important to not let anxiety take over our behavior and our power of judgment. For instance, panicking for touching your face after pressing an elevator button or pulling a door handle is likely unnecessary, since CDC has confirmed that the risk of transmission of Covid-19 is extremely low. Post- pandemic work life may not necessarily be the same as before, but it can still bring new lifestyle habits that may benefit workers in the long run.