This article is part of Raydiant’s new Future of Workspace Series which features interviews with a wide range of professionals and thought leaders to learn more about the future of office space and how the workplace experience will evolve.
The following is an interview we recently had with Mychelle Fernandez, Occupational Health and Safety Consultant, Founder of Working Moms Tribe.
What will be the 3 biggest lasting changes to the workplace caused by COVID?
- The option to work remotely. The pandemic forced employers to identify what work could be performed remotely and what work required workers to report to a worksite. It gave us data on what productivity and the quality of work look like when workers do not have to commute, have less meetings to traverse to and from, and away from workplace distractions and coworkers with negative energy. It helped workers learn what types of environments they thrive in. It allowed us to be more present at home – to improve the home, spend time with the family, or pick up a new hobby. These all helped with lowering stress and improving mental health.
- Changes in the frequency and way we conduct meetings. The pandemic eliminated several unnecessary meetings, replacing them with more efficient and effective emails to exchange information. We found several ways to meet virtually and identified the options and features that worked best for our needs. Fewer meetings freed up time to perform the work that needed to get done.
- Schedule flexibility. Workers learned how to get more work done in less time. Many had to be agile and work around family that may have been home with them, pausing and resuming work at unconventional times. Working from home humanized many workforces, allowing workers to be cognizant of the various competing interests each worker has to manage in order for a worker to be present and engaged.
Following closely behind these are workplace sick policies. Being encouraged to stay home if you have symptoms or do not feel well became standard/required during the pandemic. Before the pandemic, people didn’t get paid on days they had to miss when they were sick or there was pressure to continue to work even if you were sick. Some employers had to figure out how to manage employees that abused sick policies (there are always a few)! For the most part, it helped improve morale by showing employees their employer cared about their health and safety. I took a survey in 5 working mom Facebook groups and these were listed as the top changes they hoped to last after the pandemic.
What workplace technologies will be the most important in the years ahead?
- Better virtual meeting options. For example, one of my clients recognizes most things they can do from home, but there is a different collaborative energy when teams get together. Whiteboarding is something they would like to be able to do more like they did pre-pandemic. Since all meetings still have to have a virtual option for people not comfortable working from the office, they have not found a whiteboarding option that both the in person and virtual staff can collaboratively see/contribute to. In one of my offices we had a white board that functioned as both a screen for virtual meetings and a white board. It might be a good option but it was pricey to put in every conference room and wasn’t designed with quite the right features for meetings that are both virtual and in person. So a Zoom meeting with a white board feature that all attendees could at least see and possibly even contribute to – but then would everyone need touch screens or tablets??
- Better platforms to share and update team/collaborative work (combine various features of Teams/OneDrive, Google, Slack, Workplace, SharePoint, Box/DropBox). Email conversation, document revision, latest update/announcement sharing, central storage, searchability, and meeting scheduling are just some of the features that should be considered.
- Vaccination status tracking. Companies I am working with are looking for tools to collect and track vaccination status to get a better understanding of the risk that exists in the workplace. This one may fall off as we learn more about vaccinations and their effectiveness and if and how often boosters will be needed, but this is very much a tool companies are currently looking for.
- More remote work options. Pre-pandemic, Starbucks and other coffee shops were a place to go to get work done for short periods throughout the day, but they were already getting crowded. Co-working spaces like We Work or HerHub offer the amenities ideal for remote work, but they didn’t make sense for people who had offices they could report into. Places like these seem more important post-pandemic but with more drop-in friendly plans.
- Tools to manage “hoteling”/shared office environments to ensure there is space for those who plan to come into the office. The tool should be able to manage if the employees meet the requirements to come in (i.e. if there are training or screening requirements), tell how many people are scheduled to be in the office on any given day, have the ability to reserve/assign temporary workspace, and have the ability to put in special requests for special needs when reporting to the worksite (i.e. need to sit near certain people or have conference rooms with certain capacities/features).
- Depending on what we learn about the virus and if it persists, we may see more companies investing in their office HVAC/ventilation systems to allow workers to work together in the workplace (without masks). Ventilation systems that can remove or eliminate microorganisms quickly if/when present can help to protect workers and increase confidence in workplace safety. A few of my clients invested in ventilation upgrades that included ultraviolet scrubbing and/or HEPA filtration of air being re-circulated back into the space to filter or kill the virus if someone introduces into the space (minimum 6 air changes per hour targeted, but the higher the better).
What will the workplace of the future look like?
Ironically, the workplace of the future may look like the collaborative workspaces many companies were already in the process of transitioning to (but with resistance). Companies will downsize and cut down on physical footprints as they adopt drop in hoteling office environments. The money saved on onsite operations could then be used to provide monthly/quarterly stipends to employees to work remotely (purchase equipment for home offices and/or to cover monthly drop-in fees at shared co-working spaces like WeWork or the new equivalent of it). For working parents, co-working spaces with a daycare would be an added bonus and may make such space more enticing for working families.
At the workplace itself, the space would be modular and collaborative. Things could be moved around to be shared and reconfigured to meet the needs of those working in the space at any given moment. Most people will probably come in 2-3 times per week to work with their teams while some may never report into the office again if given the option. In theory, traffic will be lighter, or at least dispersed more evenly throughout the day and not condensed into morning and late afternoon evening rushes. By just eliminating the commute, people’s stress levels should decrease, and therefore mood and production levels increase. A hybrid/part-time remote option also helps to avoid negative people/energy in the office which would also help with mental health and productivity.
What can organizations do to prepare for this new future?
To prepare for this new future, organizations should start talking both to each other and to their workforce and LISTEN to each others’ perspectives and priorities and work collaboratively to re-imagine how we can work together to support both. Working Moms Tribe strives to do this for working families, but coming out of the pandemic, we are all affected and have a potential to benefit from a re-imagined workplace. There are a lot of surveys being taken right now, but not a lot is happening with the results of the survey. We have the opportunity to (somewhat) start fresh as companies develop and implement their return to office/worksite plans. We won’t be able to implement all the ideal changes before bringing workers back onsite but we can communicate that we recognize the opportunity for change and improvement. The companies that shift and adjust to meet the needs of their workforce will be the ones to get ahead and give themselves a competitive advantage. It won’t be something we see overnight, but with the right planning, and willingness to learn and adjust as we move along, the agile workforces will be the ones to get back up and ahead quickest.