How has COVID-19 Transformed Workspaces?

Coronavirus – A name chanted almost every minute by virtually every person on this planet in the year 2020. People creatively came up with new songs and videos to express their emotions. Probably this might stand a chance to win the Guinness world record for a word being used by the highest number of people frequently in the year 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected our lives in almost every possible way. It has changed the way we live, the way we work, the way we interact, and the way we learn. A simple google search reveals that a total of 19.7 core people were infected with this virus, and 42 Lakh people have died as I write this article.

The pandemic brought unexpected changes rapidly, forcing everyone to adapt to it or succumb to it. Millions of people lost their jobs, and others quickly adjusted to the situation. Work from Home (WFH) became the new normal as offices closed. Yet, essential workers stood up to the problem and continued to provide their services while adhering to the COVID protocols to decrease the spread of the virus. In this article, I explore the various ways in which COVID-19 has changed workplaces. The scope is enormous, but I have highlighted the significant transformations brought by COVID-19.

Before we delve into the changes that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about, let's see how this pandemic is unique.

  • COVID-19 has affected everyone on this planet. It has left almost no stones unturned, considering the vast devastation it has brought in people's lives.
  • The pace at which it unravelled was something we never expected. It gradually rolled over a long period, never giving a true sign of when and how it will end?
  • The kind of destruction it has caused is something never imagined. It has led to the loss of many lives in different phases (waves), the closure of monumental places for a long time, and much more.
  • It has brought about a personalized change in every sector. But, depending upon the nature of work, it has had a different effect.
  • This has left a lasting effect on the planet. Unfortunately, it is something which we will have to live with for the rest of our lives.


Remote Working – Offices beyond the four walls

The widespread of the coronavirus led to the offices being shut down and closed. This highlighted many challenges like inadequate technological infrastructure, lack of employee confidence, difficulties in collaboration, and individual challenges. However, companies were fast in catering to such challenges and help their employees adapt to the changing environment. For example, buffer & AngelList's 2020 state report 2020 of over 3500 workers found that 98% of the people would like to work remotely for at least some of the time for the rest of their career, and 97% of the people would recommend remote working to others.

People have adjusted to working from home and are looking forward to continuing with it even after the pandemic. Companies will have to figure their work strategies for the future to keep their employees happy but not at the cost of productivity. A Gallup survey revealed that 54% of the U.S. workers would leave their current job for the one that allowed them to work remotely. The importance of in-person collaboration will always have an upper edge over virtual collaboration; hence we won't experience remote work opportunities for everyone, but it would become more flexible.


Workplace Parenthood 

The shift to work from home has brought up a new challenge for parents with young children. Since the children are learning online and are no longer in their classes, parents have to look after them while also working from home. Keeping their children engaged in some or the other activities every day while stuck between four walls was a challenging task to ask. An article by republic world highlights how a man is seen working from a hospital while the wife just gave birth to a new life. "I mean, I can still be committed to my work while happily taking a peek at my baby girl," the man said. This shows how people are coping up with work in such drastic times.


Dress Code – Casuals become the new Formals

Gone are those days when we saw people well dressed in suits and blazers while they sip their coffee and head towards their respective offices. Since remote work has become popular among the employees, they prefer to wear comfortable clothes while juggling their daily chores and working at their homes. An article by Forbes said that some consulting firms and other organizations have "dress for the day" policies where if you are not meeting with your clients, you can leave the suit at home. Besides, many people working in tech have been wearing shorts and flip-flops to work for almost a decade now.


Reskilling & Up-skilling – Faster than ever before

The pandemic destroyed many job opportunities in the market; however, it brought a whole new set of opportunities for the workforce. This made it essential for almost everyone to up-skill their existing competencies to adapt. The COVID-19 risks outlook report, published by the world economic forum in collaboration with Zurich, gave such a concern, justification, finding that 49.3% of senior risk experts believe high levels of structural unemployment, particularly among the young, is a likely consequence of the pandemic. Furthermore, E-learning skyrocketed in the pandemic times. As a result, the entire education sector was forced to go online, which led to a new set of challenges to be encountered.


Mental & Social Health – Integral to one's overall wellbeing

The pandemic and the lockdown are putting extreme pressure on employees in ways that are testing not only their physical health but, more importantly, their mental, emotional and social wellbeing. The world health organization recently found that 45% of the health care workers in China are suffering from anxiety, while the prevalence of depression in Ethiopia trebled in April alone. The pandemic has created the need to expand our mental health provisions. Companies have also started to give more importance to the social and mental wellbeing of their employees more than ever before. They have come up with various programs like "r u okay?", "it's okay to not be ok," and others support the employees during tough times.

Future of workplaces – The post-COVID era

Companies have already started to plan and change according to the environment to be better prepared for the dynamic future about to come. According to a survey of 278 executives by McKinsey in August 2020 found that on average, they plan to reduce office space by 30 percent. I see a massive boost in the technological and medical sector in the recent future. Job roles related to data privacy, web & application development, UX, UI, digital marketing, etc., are set to be in high demand due to the increase in online activity in such a short period.

The degree of transformation in different sectors primarily depends on the level of physical interaction required to get the work done. The higher the need for physical interaction, the higher transformation is required. The pandemic has brought some of the short–term and some of the long–term changes in our lives. Probably once the pandemic is under control with the help of advancements in the medical field, temperature checks, wearing a mask, and sanitizing every other time would no longer be required. However, the change in the work style (WFH) and the automation in different processes are here to stay for the foreseeable future.

The points mentioned above are just an overview of what all has changed; however it has also led to changes like a culture of trust, transparency, & openness, lessen the need for international business travel, brought gender equality since WFH has enabled a lot of women with work opportunities, and a new way we interact not only at workspace but even with our friends. Companies must be vigilant and make decisions backed by solid research to better prepare for the upcoming challenges and smoothly adapt to them.


By Pranesh Patel

Strategic Consultant