As America enters the fall and approaches the end of 2020, people are starting to return to “normal” life while making predictions for long-term changes.
Some people are eager to return to work and leave their virtual offices behind. Other employees (and even some executives) feel like the COVID-19 pandemic has kickstarted a period of distinct change that will revolutionize the workforce.
So what will the post-pandemic workplace look like? Some experts are already speculating which changes will stick and which ones won’t. Here’s what they think.
A Handful of Industries Will Continue Remote Work
There’s no denying that 2020 has brought about many changes to our lives, but arguably the biggest change was related to work—specifically, remote work.
Are team members just as productive when they’re at home? Do communication and collaboration suffer? In some sectors, employee performance has remained the same—or has even increased—when team members clock in from home.
However, this doesn’t mean that more people will transition to fully remote work. According to a survey of 800 executives by McKinsey and Co., 15% of respondents believed that 10% of their employees could work remotely 2 or more days each week. While this is double the percent of leaders who felt this way before the pandemic (8%), it’s still a very low number and a small percentage of the overall workforce.
Interestingly, these results varied by industry. Within the IT sector, 34% of executives said they could have at least 10% of employees working remotely 2 days a week after COVID-19, compared with 22% pre-COVID.
The reality is that not every job can be remote. Over 60% of jobs in the US economy cannot be done remotely, no matter how great the video technology and project management tools become—for example, mechanics, wait staff, and nurses.
The Open Office Is Dead
At the turn of the 21st century, the open office became the new hot way to design a workplace. Companies threw out the gray, dusty cubicles of the 1980s and ’90s, instead decorating with bright colors, basic desks, and “pods” for team members to work together.
The open floor plan’s main idea: to increase collaboration—since you can just turn to the person next to you for help—while making it easier for management to keep an eye on employees.
The reality, however, is that open offices spread germs easily, since a sneeze doesn’t have a cubicle wall to hit, and they don’t improve employee productivity. A 2018 study found that this no-privacy workspace actually led to a 72% decrease in face-to-face communication.
Turning to a chat window is much more private than walking over to someone, where your conversation could be heard and would likely distract others.
“The open office is over,” Amol Sarva, the CEO of Knotel, told CBS News. “It was already over for a lot of reasons. It was too noisy, and you couldn’t concentrate.”
The open floor plan also created a system for the “haves and have-nots,” if a company had a hybrid system for some offices. Employees jockeyed to become one of the lucky few who could work inside an office with an actual door.
Post-pandemic, expect this layout to disappear further. Companies will use semi-remote work while also bringing back workspace dividers and actual offices to prevent the spread of illness.
Companies Will Need to Let Employees Take Sick Time
Pre-pandemic, it wasn’t uncommon for employees to show up at work when they felt sick. They either didn’t want to waste PTO on sick days—especially if they had a vacation planned—or they wanted to show their dedication to the company and not fall behind.
A study found that 33% of employees always go to work sick, while 90% say they at least sometimes go to work sick.
These numbers are unacceptable in 2020. While companies before the pandemic may have experienced higher sick leave because the flu spread through their staff, businesses can’t afford to become COVID-19 hotspots just because an employee wanted to “tough it out.”
Employee sick leave starts with management: owners and managers need to give employees paid sick leave and encourage them to take it. They need to send sick employees home and require that they take time away from the office. When this culture changes, other workers will feel more comfortable admitting that they’re sick and calling out.
We’re Still Learning From the Pandemic
Industry leaders began to predict what the “new normal” in the workplace will look like as early as April 2020. As a society, we’ve since learned so much more about the pandemic—and we likely have longer to go. However, there is 1 trend that will never go out of style: employers who put the health of their employees first.
The business owners and managers who care for their team members will reap long-term benefits, like increased productivity and lower turnover. That will drive more financial benefits than you could ever get from cramming desks together or limiting team sick days.