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Workplace Outlook: Is Working from Home Actually Working?

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed all our lives as we know it, and where and how we work is no different. At the peak of the threat, employers around the world reacted, shifting their employees to a new work-from-home model to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

 However, long before the outbreak forced employers to close their doors, the concept of remote work had spurred lively debate. While employees longed for a greater work/life balance and the flexibility to choose where and how they work, many employers frowned upon the concept. It’s common to see companies preferring a traditional workplace model to the remote work alternative

The shift to working from home during the pandemic has shown that employees no longer need to be at their office desks to be productive. As we prepare for new post-COVID 19 norms, one thing has become increasingly clear. It’s no longer about where you work – it’s about getting the work done.

The Future of the Workplace

While the future of the typical workplace environment is still largely unclear, one thing is certain – where and how we work has changed. There’s no doubt the future of the workplace will include a combination of in-office, remote, and hybrid working.  

Remote Working
At the onset of the pandemic, employers around the world shifted gears to offer work-from-home programs to stop the spread and keep employees healthy and safe.

But now that we begin to consider work post-pandemic, returning to a traditional work environment is not necessarily the most viable option. For employers, managing a remote workforce:

 Under a work-from-home model, employees benefit as remote work helps to strike a better work-life balance, erasing commute time and stress, and empowering them to work how and where they’re most comfortable.

 Office Working

For many, working from home is simply not working. Juggling at-home demands or suffering from self-isolation has made the return to the office a lucrative concept. For these individuals, returning to their traditional workplace setting could not happen soon enough.

Employers must focus on health and safety as well as government restrictions and recommendations before welcoming their people back into the office.

 Hybrid Working

It’s possible that adopting a hybrid work model is expected to be the norm for many businesses moving forward. Within this model, employers will continue to permit employees to work at home in some capacity, while also re-opening the workplace. This arrangement is a happy medium for those eager to return to the office and those dreading leaving their remote work setup behind.

Bringing people together and back to the office allows teams to feel connected to one another and work toward a shared purpose. An office space plays a critical role in shaping a company’s culture, and without in-person interaction, it can be difficult for employees, especially newer employees, to really experience what the culture is all about. Working together physically helps teams develop innovative ideas, build rewarding careers, and form lasting friendships. Most creative ideas or solutions to problems happen during water cooler conversations.

Without losing the flexibility with remote working, bringing people together back to a physical setting on a hybrid model could give the best of both worlds – a model that will be tested in the future.

Moving Forward Safely

While the vaccine rollout has begun and is at varying stages, there’s still no telling when or if work will return to pre-COVID settings. This leaves employers facing an uphill climb to balance the health and safety concerns of their employees with the unique demands of their business. And while the data shows a reduced spread of the virus in the United States, other countries are still suffering from the growth of variants and continuous spread.

For employees at Microsoft, their return to the workforce has come much sooner than expected. As of March 29th, employees of Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond, Washington, have been given the opportunity to return to the office. While the company will continue to offer remote work or hybrid options for its employees, this sparks the question:

When is it truly safe to bring people back to the workplace?

For Microsoft, the decision came after closely following local health data while adhering to Washington’s state capacity limits. “Since the beginning of the pandemic, our No. 1 priority has been the well-being and safety of our people,” stated Kurt DelBene, Executive Vice President at Microsoft.

By offering a hybrid workplace model, the global organization can offer in-office services for employees who wish to return, while still supporting those who feel more comfortable working from home.

Although returning to work is imminent, the CDC has recommendations to do so safely, which include:

  • Wear a mask in public spaces where social distancing is not possible
  • Monitor your health for COVID-19 symptoms and stay home when needed
  • Maintain six feet of social distancing in shared spaces
  • Regularly clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces or objects

 As leaders, we must take the opportunity to reflect back on the lessons learned during this past year and a half when considering what the future of office work looks like. And we can create opportunities for dialogue so we can continue growing and learning post-pandemic and beyond. Please share your thoughts on returning to the office and what you envision the future of work to look like.