The Office: Pandemic Edition

Laura Forer
May 28, 2020

4 Predictions for What Your Workplace Will Look Like Post-COVID-19

Human beings are nothing if not adaptable (that is quite literally how our species has survived!), and we have proven that yet again, as 2020 threw us for a loop.

And now that we’ve all adapted to our new routines of working from home, crisis schooling, online happy hours, and social distancing, the world is starting to turn right-side up again. Like a snow globe, your feet may have been glued in the same house for months, but as the world rights itself, all the little bits will be changed from before the shakeup.

How does that translate to how we do business? What does a marketer’s daily routine look like when we return to the office and when planes fill once again with business travelers? Here are four predictions for how our day-to-day work lives may change in a post-COVID-19 workplace.

1. Better working relationships.

Just as many of the late-night hosts have opened up their (unrelateably large) homes to us each evening, we have had a peak into our colleagues’ homes as well. We’ve seen our colleagues without makeup, both literally and figuratively.

Now that personal and business lines have been so blurred – now that kids have made Zoom appearances and dirty laundry has been aired in piles in the background – we have connections to our colleagues that we may not have had before. We’ve gotten to know the art hanging in their home offices and the sound of their dog barking. We’ve worried each time a team-member took a sick day and understood when colleagues needed personal or mental health days.

We know our colleagues in ways we never would have been able to in the Before, and research shows that knowing our colleagues humanizes them, which helps mitigate conflict, increases employee retention, and improves productivity. Those points are key as we wrap our heads around having…

2. A semi-permanent home office.

Even business that didn’t fully embrace working from home will find the setup lasting a while longer. Staggered returns mean you still might not see some of your colleagues face-to-face for many more months. And a new comfort level with remote work could mean that your hiring pool is expanded beyond your hometown, making working from home a permanent part of your company culture, as some tech companies recently announced.

Pre-COVID-19, a common complaint from marketers was that work often runs into the evening hours. Ironically, with everyone working from home, that habit may have been mitigated. Learning to manage time and shut down at the end of the day are skills, and now we’ve all had a few months of practice.

However, those brands that haven’t made working from home permanent can eventually expect to return to the office. That transition will bring with it…

3. New in-person work habits.

Experts agree that many industries will be forever changed by COVID-19. There is so much to be learned about the pivots brands have made that I’m sure a wealth of books and articles will cover that topic much more thoughtfully than I could here.

In addition to changes you may have seen in how you do your job, we can also expect to see more subtle cultural shifts in daily work habits. Even when in-person meetings do resume, masks will likely be commonplace for a while, and conference rooms will be set up to allow for proper distancing. Will meetings between clients and vendors forgo the handshakes, instead beginning with footshakes and ending with bows? Cubicles are already being redesigned, and the cliché of the water cooler is being swapped for Slack channels.

Marketers are lucky to often work in offices that allow for safe returns, while other parts of society may take longer. That means the possibility of…

4. “Bring Your Kid to Work” Day, every day.

Working parents have had the unique challenge of working while crisis schooling. As districts decide how to handle the upcoming school year, parents are feeling anxiety about continuing online learning.

The good news is that between now and September, remote schooling is likely to look quite different. The current situation is not sustainable, and now experts have a few months to think of a longer-term way to educate millions of children safely. But as New York’s Governor Cuomo talks about “reimagining education,” offices will also have to reimagine what being a working parent means.

What that looks like remains to be seen. Some offices may implement flex hours for parents to teach in the mornings or be home alternating weeks, depending how schools open. And sick days could become family stay-home-just-to-be-safe fortnights in cases when a student’s classmate contracts the virus.

This pandemic turned so much of what we know upside-down. And we’ll have more shakeups before the snowflakes settle. Planning now can help set expectations for the cultural changes we’ll see working in a pandemic world.

For more on working in a post-Coronavirus world, check out this video conversation with Jim Lundy, CEO & Lead Analyst at Aragon: Remote Working: Best Practice Advice on Being Productive.