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Working in a Post COVID-19 World

Working in a Post COVID-19 World

Friday, 22 May 2020

David Laws, Head of National Business Space team in Manchester at PAI member Matthews & Goodman breaks down the ABCs of WFH and how this will impact the workforce in the post Covid-19 world:

Watching Netflix whilst devouring a takeaway used to be fun. But now we are forced to do it, the allure seems to have worn off.

I cannot help feeling the same is true for Working From Home (WFH). I recall how attractive many found WFH on a Friday – remember those empty desks, interspersed only by employees who do not have the authority to dictate where they work?

Well, the current lockdown has unmasked the WFH myth. True, many organisations can run a quasi-skeletal service from a network of homes and yes, many have benefited from their employees investing in their own IT as, for some, ‘home tech’ is often more sophisticated than ‘office tech’ – unless your workplace requires multiple screens and gigabytes of bandwidth.

I suspect that many have been driven to their PCs/laptops, in a desperate attempt to ensure they have a job to go back to and strangely, Jeremy Corbyn’s election promise of providing fast and free broadband for all suddenly sounds less crazy (to those who derided it) and more inspired.

But, the WFH nirvana collapses when I think of those humorous posts of laptops positioned on ironing boards (to replicate standing desks), or books piled high to help people crouching over a laptop perched on a low coffee table, because that is the only place left to work – apart from the bed.

Friends tell me about trying to find a quiet corner to hold a conversation, or think, or work efficiently/effectively and a colleague complained about being forced to squint at a laptop screen, instead of working comfortably at his two desk screens in the office. Others have struggled with phone calls and texts because their work mobile phone provider does not provide adequate coverage at home. What about video calls attended by some poor soul suffering from poor Wi-Fi connection - as he/she competes for bandwidth against a PlayStation an HD Netflix film, or their Partners daily Zoom call with their team/office.

Dare I mention the executives who often fail the ‘W’ test, in WFH?

Someone once said there are three enemies to the home worker: the fridge, the TV and the bed. I would add a fourth, a partner who can bake.

So what have I learned?

Effective WFH strategies are dependent on good computers, fast broadband, clear management protocols, self-discipline and trust. When the lockdown ends, businesses will inevitably assess the impact WFH has had on their business and it might also change how employees view their workplace. If the current WFH does nothing else, I hope it highlights the fact that a tidy desk policy is achievable – those piles of papers, print outs and journals, which have not been touched for two months, are clearly not required so bin them.

WFH will probably be adopted more extensively than it was, which will lead to a review of how we use our workplaces, as well as the work practices we adopt. For many, it is not the panacea it was cracked out to be. Some people really miss decent working conditions and social interaction with like-minded people, not just their family members.

There are three things we can be sure of in the aftermath of this COVID-19 induced hiatus:

- Every organisation’s business model will evolve
- Seeking efficiencies by optimising office/home working will become a strategic imperative for all
- Recognising great leadership, whilst retaining the best talent will become even more critical as we all battle to recover turnover, market position and our growth ambitions.

Given some of the issues identified above, will people now review their home space and even contemplate moving home because their dining room, spare bedroom, kitchen table or wherever is simply not conducive to WFH?

If WFH is embraced more extensively, will employers have to supply ergonomic chairs and workstations, to meet current H&S regulations and ensure that WFH policies include mental health considerations?

In a post-COVID-19 world, there will be an even greater focus on defining the purpose of the office together with its function. Integrating collective and individual requirements, within the context of personalisation, will have a significant impact on employees’ wellbeing, operational efficiency and ultimately their desire to perform at their very best.

How do we ensure remote workers fully embrace an organisation’s brand, culture and identity if they are, by definition, remote? Perhaps the Google approach, with its extraordinary workplaces fuelled by a profound desire to create workspaces that are “the happiest and most productive workplaces in the world”, will no longer be the primary driver when developing an optimum workspace strategy.

Of course, a workplace which reflects your values and acts as a catalyst to attracting and retaining ‘talent’ will always be at the very heart of senior managers’ thinking, but so will desk utilisation and WFH strategies which address issues identified above.

Asking employees to send in a photograph of the ‘home workplace’ to satisfy H&S objectives might not be enough. I think HR and Line Managers will have to think more profoundly about whether the home-workplace is fit for purpose in terms of quality of IT, the efficacy of the comms package, as well as the technical, psychological and emotional support provided for the WFH candidate.

WFH will not replace the office, neither will a heterogeneous combination of work/homeplace become the accepted norm.

We will not go back to a tweaked ‘normal’, but we will change how we approach ‘the means of production’ as profoundly as Henry Ford did our industrial forefathers’ model.

WFH is dead, long live WFH.

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