The pandemic has forced us to change how we work. Most of us have been teleworking, not because we want to, but because it is required. Once restrictions were put in place regarding health and safety, most of our employers sent us home—unless we work in essential businesses. And we’ve adapted.
Working from home is definitely not the same as being in our normal work environment. But have you thought about the impact that this experience will have on offices once we are allowed to return to our work places?
Pre-pandemic, if your child was sick and you had to stay at home, most employers required that you document not being in the office by taking some sort of leave—either personal days, sick leave or vacation. But we’ve learned that we can both be at home and work, so how will leave policies change? Or perhaps I should say, how should they change? If I can work from home during the pandemic, even while homeschooling children, shouldn’t I be able to work from home post-pandemic while taking care of my sick child?
What are organizations going to do when a larger percentage of their work force requests to telework, post-pandemic? Some jobs will require that employees be at the workplace, but other jobs can be done from home. How will human resources units and supervisors figure out who can and who cannot telework?
We’ve all gotten used to more casual attire during the pandemic. Will we be expected to “dress up” for work once we’re able to go back to our offices? How important is wearing a suit or dress clothing anyway? Dress codes have been migrating toward more casual attire for decades. Will this essentially push us over the edge?
Many businesses lease their office space. How many of these businesses are rethinking whether they need to pay rent to have their staff together when they could exit the market and allow their employees to work from home? As long as there are places to have meetings, why would many businesses need to be together? Many business meetings happen at coffee shops, but there are places that cater to short term (hourly or daily) rentals of conference rooms.
What about retailers? Some are learning that they can do a brisk business online. It’s certainly easier, in many respects, to have an online business than to hire employees, keep the space presentable, and pay rent. Will some retailers voluntarily leave face-to-face interactions for those online? It may not be many, but anyone who does leaves a commercial vacancy.
Many organizations have strategic plans. These plans help management make decisions about the direction the unit will take. The pandemic has forced businesses to get out of their comfort zones and rethink how they deliver their products and services. Plans, although well thought out and thorough, have been scuttled. Businesses have had to pivot on the fly.
As an optimist, I embrace these developments, as they have proven to those folks afraid of change that making changes in the workplace doesn’t have to debilitate either the organization or the individuals it impacts.
Are things different? Yes. But does that mean they are worse? No.
As we open back up and ultimately have the opportunity to revert to the way we always did things, I hope we won’t blindly scuttle the positive changes that the pandemic forced us to make. Of course, these changes will be different for every organization. But they are there. Let’s be intentional about what we keep and what we don’t.
We’ve let the genie out of the bottle, and there’s no putting her back in!
Lynne Richardson is the dean of the College of Business at the University of Mary Washington.