A recent study conducted by The New York Times and Morning Consult revealed that 86% of workers currently operating remotely were satisfied with the arrangement. It’s the result many employers dreaded - with everyone forced to work from home, would they ever come back to the office?
As with a lot of trends in the business landscape, wider attitudes can be swayed by whatever Silicon Valley decides to do in a particular situation. The Facebooks and Googles of the world don’t just have incredible power over their users, they can also have a tremendous influence over their fellow companies, from start-ups and SMEs to the largest enterprise companies across the globe.
Google was one of the first big names to make its stance on allowing employees to work from home during and after the COVID-19 crisis crystal clear, extending its initial remote working policy born out of lockdown all the way to July 2021.
Facebook went several steps further by announcing that half of its staff would work remotely permanently within the next decade, with many new job roles advertised as ‘work from home’ positions from the start. Social media rival Twitter also revealed that employees would be given the option to work remotely should they wish - a courtesy that will be extended indefinitely.
Amazon is the outlier here and is set to invest more than £1billion in 3,500 addition jobs and 85,000 square-metres of office space in the US, signalling that it doesn’t merely want to return to normal in 2021, but expand it’s office-based workforce even further.
All of this makes it hard to predict what might happen in the near future when it comes to companies introducing widespread remote working schemes. Will they take the Facebook route and keep things as they are until some uncertain point in the future, or express caution of a different kind and give workers a return date that may be thwarted?
The global nature of the pandemic has meant that asking employees to return to the office en masse is not a viable option in the UK and many parts of the world, and so businesses have had to adapt to a new reality - and fast.
Health and safety in a post-COVID world
Of course, the most significant office revolution in recent memory came from companies just like Google, with the boring cubicles and grey workspaces of old suddenly being transformed by colourful break out areas, pool tables and buzzword-heavy slogans pasted on the walls. The idea was to make work seem more like home, but now we must contend with a world that has transformed all of our spare rooms (if you’re lucky enough to have one) into the lonely cubicles to which we waved goodbye.
This poses huge problems in many areas of business - health and safety among them. Keeping track of the wellbeing of your workforce when they’re scattered across the country is difficult, to say the least, and has forced a lot of executives to review how their policies measure up when there’s suddenly less room for failure.
Even when workers return to the office - and many if not most inevitably will - hygiene and social distancing regulations will need to be in place well before footfall starts to increase. This means additional costs for employers, and training for employees unsure of how to navigate this new working reality. If the right steps are not taken, businesses face the risk of being shut down again should there be an outbreak.
The ‘forgotten’ workforce
None of this - and none of the mainstream chatter about home working in general - takes into account the millions of workers who can’t physically do their jobs from home. Construction workers, engineers, cleaners and shop assistants, not to mention healthcare workers, have all had to face challenges that are more pressing than whether they’re more productive at their desk in the office or their desk in the living room.
Even Google specified that the work from home extension to July 2021 only applied to those “roles that don’t need to be in the office”. While it’s exciting for office workers to envision a world in which they don’t have to commute to the office every day, theirs is only one corner of a vast workforce that also includes those who have been either working through lockdown or forced (by financial situations or employers’ wishes) to return already.
Those working alone are some of the most vulnerable even when society is operating normally so, with workers who aren’t used to operating solo, and new challenges for returning lone workers, employers have a duty of care in regards to tailoring health and safety policy towards this section of their workforce.
To this end, something like alarm monitoring can be an indispensable tool, allowing businesses to ensure their workers are not in danger without having to be in the same space as them physically. SOS buttons that a lone worker can manually push, or a Man Down sensor that alerts a nominated contact when an employee has fallen, are all great safeguarding measures.
As far as changes to workplace culture are concerned, the post-pandemic response - whatever it will look like in the end - is about far more than the latest trends coming out of San Francisco. It is still true, however, that many businesses will be looking to the largest enterprises in their space to lead the way.
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