Thursday 16th July 2020
Why HR professionals must care about the 5 ways the office will be different after COVID-19

In a post-COVID-19 workplace, there are five areas in which Human Resources (HR) will need to take note of going forward:

1. COVID-19 is a catalyst for a paradigm shift 

The changes that will impact employees post-COVID-19 are not temporary. Even if there was a vaccine available tomorrow, the COVID-19 pandemic has made us realise we can work remotely and be productive. That genie is not going back into the bottle. While we are planning for how to get people safely back into the workplace, we will need to plan for permanent change and that this change will continue to evolve for at least the next five years. Change will be a permanent state and there will be a tension between the employees and the employer to effect this change. HR will need to bridge the gap between the two constituents with a focus on putting the employee at the centre of the workplace experience.

2. The workspace is where the employee is

We used to have the employee come to the workspace for them to be able to do their work. It was where the technology and the physical desktop was located that they needed to perform their roles. For knowledge workers, this workspace has become virtual and so instead of putting the employee in the workspace, we need to wrap the workspace around wherever the employee is physically located.

HR will need to work with the business, IT, and the employees to offer them the systems they need to be the most productive they can be.

3. Workspace will become about culture, collaboration, and creativity

The primary focus of the workspace used to be about productivity. We felt in order for the employee to be productive, they needed to be in the physical office. The digitization of the workspace has resulted in the untethering of the employee to the physical workspace. However, there are other benefits of the workspace.

People’s work may have been virtualized, but human beings crave human interaction.

A company’s culture is based on how the employer interacts with the employee and how the employees interact with each other. Bringing people together to collaborate so they can drive creativity will be what differentiates businesses in the new normal. HR will need to work with corporate real estate to ensure the physical workspace reflects the culture of the company, promotes collaboration, and drives creativity.

4. There will be four types of employees and we don’t know who will be which type

Employees will either be office-based, predominantly office-based, predominantly remote, or remote. This will impact everything from employee morale to hiring polices to how we design working spaces for employees. In the past, there were a small number of customer-focused people who were regularly remote, sales, service personnel, consultants, all were typically out in the field with customers. Marketing, HR, Finance, Legal, and Operations, were typically in the office Monday to Friday, 9 to 5, this will no longer be the case. HR will need to understand which functions are most productive and where, and to help identify which type of employee fits into which working style.  Initially this will be based on assumptions, HR will need theoretical hypotheses, and then gather empirical data over time about where people really are most productive.

5. The worker will drive the change

Pre-COVID-19 we ran offices like factories. The relationship between the physical space and the employee was dictated by the employer.  With the need to work from home, the balance of power has shifted to the employee. Employers will start to offer functions that were previously fully office-based to work remotely. No-one loves commuting, and employers will be able to attract people they were unable to previously attract, by allowing employees more flexibility in where they conduct their role. This will change the employee/employer dynamic. HR will need to work to bridge this divide and ensure they are listening to the employees and becoming more flexible and creative in how the business responds to what the employees are telling them, either when they are telling them directly or watching for them voting with their feet.

*Thank you to Mike Pilcher, Chief Sales Officer, Condeco for writing this article.

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