How the workplace needs to adapt after COVID19

Author Yodit Stanton

Published on April 2020

Reading time: 4 minutes
Work from home is here to stay and social distancing will form part of everyday life both in the workplace and in ones home life. Activity based working will become the way forward to manage these changes in the workplace. 
COVID19 has bought into the mainstream working patterns typically associated with startups and quirky companies, in the form of a fully distributed workforce. Over the last several weeks, organisations have had to scramble with little notice to shut down offices and create an infrastructure to enable its workforce to be fully remote. 
Now that the initial panic is over, many are thinking ahead at what’s coming up next. 

Working from home is here to stay

Before the COVID19 disruption, around 83% of those already working from home, typically did so at least one day or less, according to a Leesman survey. Historically, the push back against remote working has been at departmental leadership level, where most managers felt their teams couldn’t effectively collaborate without being in the office.
On the other hand, two thirds of employees surveyed by Glassdoor stated they were confident they could do their jobs remotely. However, the pandemic has solved this tension since it has forced everyone to work remotely.
The world has embraced an extended period of intense work from home experience and it is clear that even ardent opponents of remote working take the view that some level of distributed workforce is here to stay forever.
According to the Colliers International survey of 3000 respondents from 25 countries:
  • 82% would like to work remotely one day a week or more after the COVID19 crisis is over
  • 53% believe their productivity has not changed as a result of working from home, and 24% believe their productivity has increased. However, 23% said their productivity has declined
  • 58% believe they can collaborate better in the office compared to at home

Impacts on productivity levels

Working from home during this unprecedented time will be significantly different from ‘normal’ remote working conditions. Since a significant number of employees have children at home, it’s a good assumption that decreases in productivity experienced, is highly likely due to this as well as other factors specifically associated with working in times of a pandemic. 
Interestingly the survey shows that a large number of those with children would prefer to do more work from home after the quarantine is lifted, whilst those in house shares would rather be back in the office.
CFOs across the globe have recognised the potential cost saving benefits of significantly reducing their real estate footprint. According to Gartner, 74% of CFO’s say they expect to move previously onsite employees to remote working after COVID19. 

Activity Based Working (ABW) will be the way forward to manage changes in the workplace

Social distancing is going to form a large part of return to work plans and in this new era post COVID19 world, will bring ABW into a new stage of maturity.  
ABW provides employees with a wide range of work options rather than just a desk to work at. With the assumption that the majority of employees will be able to continue a degree of work from home after COVID19, the nature of what the office provides will need to be radically different. 
If an employee goes into the office for the collaborative element of their job for instance, they will have very different needs to someone. The design of the office has to take into account the variance of individual work to provide correct ratios between desk space and informal collaborative areas. 
No longer will there be one desk per employee but a wide variety of seating choices which will be based on the type of work employees need to conduct at the time.

Mobility profiling 

What will be the right combination of seating, will depend on the mobility profile of teams and individuals. There isn’t a one size fits all model but here are some things to consider.
 OpenSensors -Mobility profile
At OpenSensors we categorise four mobility profiles based on utilisation data captured by sensors.
  • Mobile - Employees who spend a few days in the office. These tend to be people who work from home or offsite locations.
  • Semi-Mobile - Employees who only use their desks for part of the day. These tend to people that spend significant parts of their day in meetings or collaboration zones.
  • Fixed - Employees who are rarely away from their desks. These tend to be people who require allocated seating.
Every organisation will have a mixture of employees who fall into any one of these mobility profiles. Even within the same team, department or across office locations will have its own dynamics. You will see patterns at a team level but the dynamics can be hugely different dependent on the role type.
The workplace post COVID19 will look very different as most employees will have naturally found a comfortable degree of working from home. But setting remote work patterns will have to be a combination of understanding the nature of tasks for particular teams, monitoring the usage of office space; and most importantly integrating employee feedback.

Key takeaways

  • Mobility profile of teams will vary significantly across teams, departments and office locations
  • Employee feedback will be more important than ever before as Facility and Real estate teams need to understand and learn more about the tasks or work they do in order to set up the right work modes to facilitate it
  • Activity based working will be the way forward to manage changes in the workplace. Here's a case study on ANZ who transitioned into an ABW environment and were able to:
    • Reduce building costs by 30%
    • Reduce decision making from 4 days to 4 hrs

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Topics: Facilities & Workplace trends, COVID19, Guidance

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