Businesses Adapting To New Normal Of Working From Home, Personal Space
As days turn to weeks and months, the new normal of working from home is proving a learning experience for workers and businesses alike.
And it’s not just a virus you have to deal with these days, but a bad chair.
“We’re in uncharted territory,” said CBRE Senior Vice President Lisa Fulford Roy, who heads the company’s Canadian Workplace Strategy Practice.
“We’re going through the initial triage stage right now and the real concern remains our health. Companies wanting to support a flexible workforce must set their people up for success. And that could include something as simple as proper ergonomics at home.”
It all sounds simple. Yet despite the fact technology has made remote work possible for years, most companies haven’t looked at the work-from-home idea as a long-term concept.
“We’re seeing how important tech is. Companies that didn’t invest in technology are now experiencing big challenges processing work and maintaining connectivity with remote workforces,” she said. “I don’t think it’ll ever go back the way it was.”
On the home front, succeeding in the new normal can begin with something as simple as an adequate home office.
According to Fulford Roy, weeks spent working with a less-than-ideal office setup (an inadequate chair or desk/household noise and distractions) could lead to a drop in productivity and, in extreme cases, physical discomfort and injuries.
That’s not just the workers' problem. It affects the whole business.
“This needs to be top-of-mind for organizations now and post-COVID-19,” she said. “Companies wanting to support a flexible workforce must set their people up for success.”
Working from home has also spurred a realignment of priorities.
“We’re realizing that we need to set boundaries around our work. So, we’ll likely see more work-life balance expectations from employees going forward,” Fulford Roy said.
“It’s a good thing for many. Working from the home empowers employees and their bosses as well. For some individuals, this works, and it could be permanent.”
To be fair, for a great deal of companies, working from the home is simply not an option.
The CRE listing platform Spacelist recently conducted a survey with hundreds of businesses leasing space across Canada, including office (48%), industrial (20%) and retail (32%) properties.
Based on their responses, the majority of retail (75%) and industrial (62%) tenants are not able to work from home. Office tenants fare better, with work done from home possible for 68% of respondents.
And while almost half of office tenants are operating with similar staffing as prior to the coronavirus, retail tenants are 65% shut down, while 38% of industrial tenants are shuttered. On the flip side, 4% of industrial tenants are operating with more staff than before the coronavirus.
“This is a hard situation,” Spacelist CEO Steven Jaffe said. “And a lot of the bigger effects come into play later this year. The scale of the emergency is not yet clear.”
Jaffe said that while 65% of those surveyed said they don’t anticipate normal conditions will return before July or August, just what "normal" will look like is unclear.
A third of those surveyed by Spacelist expected to break their leases in some way in the coming months, while 10% anticipated they’ll be looking for smaller space, or a sublet.
Jaffe said that for those who can work at home, the impact has been wildly divergent.
“They’re both extremes. There are the people who can work easily out of the home," Jaffe said. "And there are the others who feel stuck in the home, who find it difficult to balance life and family and work. They can’t wait to get back in the office.”
But that’s going to be tricky. Both Jaffe and Fulford Roy think the new normal of the office setting comes with fresh challenges.
“Fear that people are still carrying [the coronavirus]. The fear of another spike. That fear is real,” Jaffe said. “A lot of this is psychological. Being in a space where you are comfortable — it definitely affects productivity.”
Fulford Roy said the issue of social distancing in the workplace, if that’s even possible, remains an ongoing problem. Yet again, it all begins with that pesky desk set-up.
“We need human interaction and the workplace provides that. But what about seat sharing? Who is using your keyboard when you are not there? Honestly, how do I get from home to the office safely? That’s a real question of health,” she said.
She said that reducing the stress of returning employees may be something as simple as a clean desk policy or assigned or rotating seating.
“This is global. Everybody is sharing in the experience together. We are learning from each other,” Fulford Roy said.