The pandemic disrupted when, where and how we work.
Companies were forced to become remote overnight and workers proved they can still be productive without being in the office. Or having a 9-to-5 schedule. Or face-to-face meetings. Or traveling.
But as vaccines roll out and the light at the end of the tunnel seems to be getting a little closer, how many of these pandemic changes will last?
While some companies can’t wait to get back to “business as usual,” others are going all in on remote work.
In May, Twitter said some employees who want to work from home forever, can. And DropBox has said it is now “virtual first,” which means many employees will continue to work remotely most of the time. Meanwhile, Google plans to test a flexible work week — with employees coming into the office at least three times a week.
The F word
Workers have proven they can be productive at home, so flexibility in where they work is here to stay, experts predict.
Hybrid workforces, in which some workers are in the office while others are remote, allow employees to choose what works best for them. That could mean workers are going into the office a few days every week, rotating weeks between work and home, or just a few office drop-ins a year.
“I think there will be few organizations that go 100% remote,” said Erica Volini, global human capital leader at Deloitte.
A distributed workforce can be difficult to manage. It requires thorough communication, well-defined goal and priority setting and strategic planning.
“There has to be new ways of measuring productivity and understanding what workers are producing,” said Volini. “How you measure when you can’t physically see them and interact with them is going to be a pretty significant shift.”
And flexibility isn’t just about offering a choice of where employees work. It could also mean more companies rethink the traditional 40-hour work week. For instance, Unilever is testing out a four-day workweek at full pay for its employees in New Zealand.
Going beyond health and dental
There is no hiding the demands working parents face when working from home. And balancing work and home life is, without a doubt, difficult: Kids pop up unexpectedly on Zoom meetings. Virtual learning eats up much of the day.
Even after kids go back to school, companies are going to continue to look for ways to support working parents, according to Melanie Tinto, chief human resources officer at financial technology service provider Wex.
That could mean additional benefits like tutoring assistance, financial planning, parenting hotlines and more mental health benefits for the entire family.
The office makeover
With less people coming into the office regularly, companies will likely re-evaluate their real estate needs.
“A lot of companies are going to end up with too much office space,” said Chester Spatt, a finance professor at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business. “There’s going to be a big reconfiguration.”
And perks like office gyms, dry cleaning pickups and free snacks lose some of their luster if people are spending more time in their home offices.
“The era of ping pong tables in the office is done,” said Volini.
Companies will likely focus on creating space for more teamwork and collaboration rather than solo work.
Dropbox is redesigning its office spaces and part of that includes removing individual desks to create more space for collaboration.
REI announced plans to shift to a more distributed work model earlier this year and then sold its new corporate campus in Bellevue, Washington. Instead, the outdoor retailer plans to have multiple satellite locations across the region.
Employee monitoring of remote workers could increase when things return to normal, said Roshni Raveendhran, assistant professor of Business Administration at the University of Virginia.
Employee monitoring software can do things like track productivity, block websites and monitor activity and track keystrokes.
“Companies, especially given today’s work-from-home reality, turned to lots of intensive electronic monitoring and investing a ton of money in this process,” Raveendhran said.
She added that monitoring can be a slippery slope. “Once organizations invest in monitoring tools and initiate new monitoring practices, they are going to find it easy to continue with those practices when things return to normal.”
To avoid having this type of surveillance hurt employee morale and engagement, Raveendhran said companies should make it “informational” rather than ‘evaluative.’ For example, give employees first access to their data.
“That way, the monitoring itself is perceived as a way to get useful information about one’s behaviors rather than worrying about being judged negatively by their bosses.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the company that sold its corporate headquarters in Bellevue, Washington. The company was REI.