The 2020 pandemic has been a wake-up call for many businesses who were perhaps unwilling to act on progressive strategies to bring their offices into the modern digital era. For the most part, they were unwilling to experiment with ideas that seem to have drawbacks in terms of revenue and security.
Since the lockdowns, however, these ideas have been dusted down and implemented in many cases successfully. Telecommuting and digital workplaces have been the saving grace for many companies throughout the pandemic. But while many people are enthusiastic about the new set-ups they also have drawbacks. Feelings of isolation among the workforce and a desire to have a conventional working environment means that businesses will have to consider their post-pandemic strategies carefully.
This could involve a combination of short-term fixes, such as cellular offices, or distributed offices, along with longer-term design modifications that put hygiene at the heart of the office environment. Regardless of the strategy moving forward it’s clear that more experimentation, and collaborative learning will be necessary to get the balance right.
Telecommuting, now more commonly referred to as working-from-home (WFH) has been around for a while. Experiments with WFH reach back to at least the early 1990s but for a long time never gained much traction. The reasons for that may be to do with inertia – established working practices were just familiar and easier to comprehend – and an unwillingness on the part of employers to invest in the necessary infrastructure, remote technologies etc.
The Covid pandemic has changed all that and forced the hand of many companies to take remote working seriously. This fall back has of course resulted in a lot of benefits for companies who are noticing a short-term increase in revenue and a seemingly contented workforce. The trend is set to continue for a while yet, even after government guidelines change, and the economy begins to re-open. It’s likely many businesses will now invest in technology to make telecommuting more possible.
The 9/80 Schedule
For those who haven’t heard of the 9/80 schedule check the sample 9/80 work schedule for more information. Put simply, it’s a creative way for employers to organise workforce scheduling in a mutually beneficial way. For employers, there is a guaranteed 80 hours of work per week, while employees benefit from extra days off in the months for a minimal increase in their daily hours.
So how does it work? Over a two week period a 9/80 schedule consists of eight nine-hour days, one eight-hour day, and one extra day off – including weekends. This means a 9/80 schedule has employees working 80 hours over 9 days rather than the usual 10 days. So an entire extra day off can be offered to employees over a two week period. Two extra days per month.
Apart from the obvious boost in morale these extra days off can benefit companies in many other ways. Productivity will increase, sick days will come down, and employees will be more reliable. In the post-pandemic pandemic world, flexible scheduling such as this is set to become more commonplace.
The digital workplace is something of a natural evolution. As technology becomes smarter and more integrated into our lives, as our professional lives become more blended with our personal ones, the digital workplace has crept in bit-by-bit. Whether it’s answering emails from home or working on a project that requires video conferencing, the workplace has been moving in this direction for some time.
The Covid Pandemic, however, has accelerated the changes. Companies have needed to think quickly when their employers suddenly couldn’t come to the office. Luckily, enough digital infrastructure did exist at the time, and people had enough working knowledge of it to establish practical solutions.
Companies are now likely to build on these foundational principles and create a digital workplace that is fully equipped with the software tools, security protocols, and resilience to technical distributions built into their platforms. The digital workplace has many advantages, but isolation is one of its big drawbacks.
Initially, when offices begin to open up again there will be a high level of restrictions and hygiene implemented. Telecommuting will be encouraged where possible, but in offices that require staff, the workplace is likely to be transformed.
Huddle rooms, for example, could be more of a feature – small side rooms used as office space while the open plan system undergoes evaluation. A cellular office plan has limited benefits for workplace culture and communication but in the short term it might inspire employee confidence and meet with government guidelines.
Alternatives to the central cellular office that would still require employees to use public transport and battle city centre crowds is the idea of distributed offices. Companies will open peripheral offices near to where employees work, thereby reducing their commutes as well as spreading infectious diseases such as Covid-19. This would be one way around the problem of isolation that many employees feel when continually using digital platforms.
Remember those science fiction movies where employees walk into their place of work, their eyes are scanned at the door, maybe they swipe a card turning a light from red to green – they talk to the room, and it makes them a coffee. Scenes like this could really be the future though it seems not by choice.
Following the 2020 pandemic, offices are likely to be built with hospital-like architectureqq and smart technology built into every room in order to limit the need to touch objects such as buttons and vending machines. Employees could eliminate the need to press a button using their smartphone to send a command to the elevator or door, or even the coffee machine. Conference rooms could incorporate voice-activated technologies to control lighting, audio and visual equipment.
It seems likely this technology will be implemented in years to come. It does already exist but there are still issues around privacy and security to iron out first.