Adjusting to the New Normal: What Will the Post-Coronavirus Workplace Be Like?
The danger of coronavirus still looms over us.
But even as we’re settling into this strange new state of being, it’s important to remember that coronavirus — just like everything else — won’t last forever.
So, what awaits us past this crisis?
Businesses, for one, will have to find a new normal. Employees won’t just come back to work and continue as if nothing ever happened. Our newfound awareness of the danger that a pandemic like this can pose won’t allow us to move on that easily.
As more and more workers start going back to their offices for the first time since the pandemic began, it’s time to dive deeper into what new workplace expectations may look like and how businesses can deliver on them to ensure that their operations continue to run smoothly.
Many Manual Workplace Processes Will Change Thanks to Coronavirus
Just like any worldwide event would, coronavirus has pushed businesses to innovate and find more efficient solutions.
One prime example of innovation shows up in meetings.
Face-to-face meetings had been a staple for decades, both with clients and among teams. Until recently, it was still considered the standard, despite it being inefficient in the grand scheme of things — what with the commuting to and from meetings, wasted time spent on small talk, and so on.
But with coronavirus wreaking havoc, these kinds of meetings were quickly ruled out. So how did businesses go on?
They quickly transitioned to a more appropriate option — video conference calls. And as it turns out, the efficiency and effectiveness of digital meetings are so transformative that many organizations are taking as many meetings as they can online.
Another area where remote work has optimized processes is in accounts receivable and payable.
A move to automated invoice management in favor of in-person paper-pushing has increased speed and efficiency to a point where businesses may never want to return to the former state.
Both of these developments drive home the fact that remote work will likely continue to be more than acceptable in many workplaces.
For example, Twitter and Square recently announced new forever-remote policies. Likewise, Google and Facebook are permitting workers to do their jobs from home through at least the end of 2020.
However, the reality is that fully remote environments aren’t possible for every organization. Here’s what those companies can expect when employees do start reentering the workplace.
What Employees Might Expect in Post-Coronavirus Workspaces
Returning to work won’t be completely smooth, as we can all imagine. Employees are bound to have certain expectations. Here’s what those might be and how to meet them to make for a far more comfortable work environment.
Access to Hygiene Tools
Hygiene has always been important, but it has taken on a whole new meaning during coronavirus. And we can only assume that the trend will continue after it, as well.
Your employees will probably want to see that the cleanliness of their workspace is being kept to a certain standard. They might also want access to hygiene tools such as hand sanitizer, disinfecting sprays and wipes, and hands-free door opening methods.
Creating print outs that detail hygiene best practices is another good idea. You can display them in easy-to-see places such as entrances and bathrooms.
With deep work being key to productivity, you want to make sure you’re relieving any anxieties employees have about coming back to work so they can focus on what’s important and know they’re safe in their workspace.
Even if you can’t fulfill every employee request, simply inviting and listening to their suggestions can go a long way in easing their concerns.
Increased Distance Between Workers
People used to find comfort in numbers. But while there’s still a real danger of spreading coronavirus via human contact, you must prevent workers from gathering in large numbers for the foreseeable future.
Fortunately, there are several creative solutions for making more space in the workplace.
For one, you could open your office only to employees who need to be there. This might include people who literally can’t do their jobs remotely as well as people who have struggled to be productive from home.
Or, following Twitter’s example, you could also allow employees to choose whether they feel comfortable with coming back to the office or not.
Another option is a rotating system. In this system, small groups of employees use the office on set, alternate days. This would help keep the capacity in the office low while offering the mental health benefits of working with others for a change.
If you find that a large number of workers are ready or need to be back in the office, you might want to put physical distance and/or glass or plastic barriers between workspaces.
Tips for Boosting Morale After the Coronavirus Pandemic
Any sense of community in the workplace has taken a hit since the pandemic began. You might find that even once employees return to the office, morale is still low. These tips should get your creativity flowing when it comes to finding ways to reignite feelings of belonging and support for your company culture.
Prioritize Time for Self-Care
Mental health is more important than ever during these times of uncertainty when increased stress and anxiety can block productivity and lead to burnout. One way to remedy this is to make it clear that your organization prioritizes self-care.
Allow and empower your employees to take a mental health day when they need to. You may also want to offer an increased number of days off that they can use to take care of family and friends who are leaning on them now more than ever.
Imagine if you had to leave a sick relative — whether coronavirus-related or not — to go to work. You’d be distracted and unmotivated all day. These are already strange times we’re living in, don’t make the issue worse by enforcing a status quo that doesn’t make sense in our new reality. Support your workforce by giving them a chance to be their best so they can give you their best.
This sense of support is especially important after months of physical distance. Employees will feel like they’re part of a team that truly values them — because they are.
You might also consider making the process of asking for a day off easier on both you and your workers. Ease anxiety and reduce paperwork with an automated workflow that makes requesting and approving time off as simple as hitting a few buttons.
Implement Wellness Programs
Another good option for your business could be wellness programs that support both physical and mental health.
The simplest thing you can do for your employees’ mental health — and the quickest one, as well — is to hire an on-site counselor to help your employees work through issues related to coronavirus and beyond. Employees should be empowered to visit this mental health professional at any time during the workday and in complete confidence.
To improve mental wellbeing, you might also want to offer free time and space where employees can meditate at work. This can have calming effects that lead to better focus and higher morale.
Furthermore, you could offer gym memberships as a part of your benefits package. People have spent a lot of time cooped up indoors with minimum access to exercise since stay-at-home rules went into effect, so a chance to get their blood pumping on the company dime may be beneficial to both their physical and mental health. An alternative to a gym membership could be organizing company hikes or running sessions during lunch breaks or on weekends.
Another way to instill wellness could be replacing unhealthy snacks in the office kitchen with fruit, vegetables, and other healthy snacks. On the food-related front, you could also create a water-drinking challenge — and make the results public in a communal space in the office (or online if you still have remote staff).
These strategies aren’t just for the benefit of individual employees, they should also help boost the collective sense of morale, culture, community, and hopefully productivity in your workplace.
The Time to Prepare for the New Normal Is Now
Coronavirus has changed the world in a way that no recent event has. The workplace we used to know might never make a full comeback. But by implementing the above strategies, you’ll be uniquely prepared to deliver on new workplace expectations.
Start getting ready now so that when the threat of coronavirus passes and your workplace is getting used to yet another new normal, you’ll already have everything in place to manage time more efficiently, show your employees that you care, and create an even stronger workplace culture than before.
About the Author
Kristina Perunicic is a freelance writer with Optimist. She has a background in marketing and occasionally consults local businesses on their digital strategies. She covers business operations and growth and spends her free time reading, volunteering, and spending time with her family.