What to expect when returning to the workplace

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// With restrictions easing across WA, businesses are slowly returning to the office and potentially different workplace norms…

If one thing has been proven by the last few months, it is that the future is flexible.

Remote work, teleconferencing, Ugg boots on at the desk, and unlimited coffee breaks have become the ‘new normal’ for thousands of West Australians as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Changes to the way we all conduct business, many of which were initially assumed to be temporary, have proven to work in practice and set the stage for some of the most drastic changes to the workplace in decades.

With restrictions surrounding social distancing seemingly easing, many employees are swapping the dining room table for their old desk and returning to the office. But just how different will the office they return to be…?

Open, yet distanced, offices

Recent years have seen the continued growth of open plan, coworking and flexible workspaces, favoured by big businesses and startups alike.

Despite the continued debate surrounding the benefits and pitfalls of such office solutions, COVID-19 has forced many businesses to reconsider the idea of their employees sharing facilities and amenities with others.

The risk posed by COVID-19, combined with its highly contagious nature, means that many businesses will simply refuse to crowd their employees until a vaccine is widely available. Expect to see a shift towards private office space and/or the return of cubicle style work spaces to separate employees.

Some companies that provide real estate solutions, such as Cushman & Wakefield, are experimenting with office redesigns by introducing workspaces known as the “6 feet office”, designed to provide visual cues to help employees stick to social distancing.

Increased emphasis on hygiene and cleanliness

As we re-enter the workplace, expect to see an increased emphasis on hygiene and cleanliness until the threat of COVID-19 is eliminated.

Some of Perth’s largest businesses are going as far as to install thermal imaging cameras and fully equipped hygiene stations in their buildings to ensure that the virus doesn’t spread.

Whilst such measures may be out of the realm of possibility for WA startups, expect to see plenty of hand sanitiser and strict cleaning regimes being enforced in offices of all sizes.

Flexibility to work from home

The events of recent months have forced many companies that were once resistant to allow employees to work from home to embrace remote work as a legitimate option.

WA businesses have invested in this new way of working and, depending on how productivity has changed over recent months, some companies may elect to shift a segment of their workforce to a more permanent remote working schedule to eliminate physical office space costs.

A recent survey of Chief Financial Officers conducted by Gartner, Inc. revealed that 74% planned to shift at least 5% of employees from on-site jobs to permanently remote positions after COVID-19.

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However, working from home may lead to increased anxiety for employees as in-person social cues and office comradery are replaced by teleconferencing and instant messaging.

This kind of social anxiety can manifest itself in various ways, including:

  • Avoiding replying to important emails or calls;
  • Failure to ask questions;
  • Inability to ask for time off;
  • Need for constant reassurance.

Reluctance to commit to long term leases

As advised by the WA Government, businesses under a commercial lease are urged to discuss flexible terms with their respective landlords.

Many startups will no doubt seek work spaces that can be leased for shorter periods of time as they continue to navigate uncharted waters and try to minimise the impact of the pandemic.

Expect to see an increase in temporary office spaces being offered throughout Perth in the coming months as landlords seek to fill spaces left empty by the economical impact of the virus.

The true impact of COVID-19 on workplace norms won’t become clear for months. However, one thing for sure is that they way businesses operate will continue to shift and evolve to accommodate our new reality. Many startups will have to remain agile and focus on building different areas of their business, such as their online presence, until the dust settles.

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Author: Harrison Sharret.

Harrison works for OfficeSpace.com.au, a brokerage that assists individuals and businesses find their ideal office space across Australia.

Photos by Burst and Ken Tomita from Pexels.