At the end of March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic forced offices to adapt to remote workflows, and only 12% of businesses felt prepared. Lack of technology preparedness, unclear management structures, and weak risk management strategies made most leaders feel like they couldn’t let their employees step away from their desks.
Even though most states are now lifting their stay-at-home orders, most organizations aren’t implementing any kind of “return to normal.” In fact, 74% of employers intend to shift some of their workforces to work from home permanently moving forward.
COVID-19 accelerated digital technology adoption in organizations, whether they intended to move into the digital era or not. The forceful adaptation shed light onto new practices that will likely stay in place as offices return to the new normal. Here are several ways COVID-19 is shaping the workplace of tomorrow.
1. Significantly fewer people in the office
Aside from essential businesses, nearly all organizations stalled during the lockdowns. Of those organizations that remained open, 34% of employees that previously commuted to work reported working from home as of April 1, according to an MIT report. A different study revealed that 43% of Americans who work full-time jobs want to continue working from home, and 20% of employers are discussing making that option a reality.
Organizations are not only noticing that, for most functions, remote work can be equally as productive as in-office work, but reducing the number of people in the office also promotes employee safety and enables social distancing. While business is returning to a sense of normalcy, the coronavirus is still a major concern, especially for older people and those with pre-existing health conditions. Fewer people in the office lowers the risk of infection and combats a second wave of viral spread.
To strike a balance between productivity and employee safety, organizations are implementing flexible work schedules and using unified communications platforms (UCaaS) to ensure teams can collaborate in real time online no matter where they’re working.
2. No more open floor plans
Open floor plans—designed to facilitate workplace collaboration—started trending during the dot-com boom of the 1990s. However, cramping so many people together doesn’t support safe distancing. Organizations may soon follow the lead of convenience stores, banks, and other essential businesses, installing plexiglass walls around desks to reduce the spread of germs.
These organizations realize that shared desks and coworking spaces are unsafe working conditions as long as coronavirus is still a concern.
3. Guided movement directions
Many supermarkets started enacting one-way aisle rules to reduce crowds and shoppers passing too close. It’s not too far out to assume that offices might follow suit when they begin to reopen.
Hospitals have been using this directional movement method for years to help medical professionals travel from Point A to Point B quickly and reasonably given the amount of hazards in each department. Offices might institute the same policies to ensure employees can move through the office while maintaining a proper six-foot distance between themselves and coworkers. One organization in the Netherlands has already implemented this into their office.
4. Contactless amenities
Offices are filled with shared spaces. Meeting rooms, lobbies, and break rooms are breeding grounds for germs. Hundreds of employees touch the same sink, doors, coffee machines, and light switches. Experts predict that contactless amenities will take over shared office spaces. These include things such as voice-activated light switches or coffee machines that take commands from an app on your smartphone.
5. Deeper focus on digital marketing
Marketing automation and digital marketing became pivotal for businesses that had existing e-commerce sectors and for those that focused on B2B or in-person sales and services. Marketers were challenged to communicate more personally and effectively to retain loyal customers during the pandemic when they couldn’t deliver as they normally would in person.
This forced tradeshows to turn into virtual events designed to market an organization’s solutions. While video marketing was already booming at the beginning of the year, with nationwide stay-at-home orders being enforced, YouTube traffic increased 15%, so brands capitalized on this by creating product demos and tutorial videos.
6. Streamlined workplace communication
With nearly half the US workforce working from home at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for streamlined communication has never been higher. This means digital communication between team members, and between leaders and subordinates, has to happen as efficiently as it would in person.
Studies show that 25% of the average workday is spent checking emails, and most of these emails aren’t relevant to every single employee. Organizations were challenged to come up with a personalized approach to notifying employees about changes in work schedules and daily tasks. Furthermore, real-time collaboration happened exclusively online. Having a platform that can handle messaging, file sharing, and feedback in one central location will help reduce time wasted sorting through emails and bouncing between applications to finish a task.
Bringing tomorrow’s teams together through cloud communications
The workplace of tomorrow—in both the near and distant future—might look drastically different from our pre-COVID-19 workplace, and it’s a new normal we’ll have to accept. Luckily, organizations have already begun planning critical transformations to support this. 52% of CFOs intend to improve the remote work experience by accelerating automation and new technologies.
With an increasing number of distributed teams and social distancing at work, organizations can ensure that employees have the right tools to facilitate collaboration without having to initiate close contact like before. Unified communications solutions like the RingCentral app combine team messaging, video conferencing, and cloud phone into a single platform that allows employees to communicate and collaborate from anywhere, on any device.
As organizations prioritize safety by limiting employee contact, unified communications bring employees together regardless of distance. Organizations that provide these solutions to their employees will be significantly more prepared to welcome the workplace of tomorrow.
Originally published Jun 25, 2020, updated Jan 18, 2023